Archive for January, 2010

Ballerina!


A video by Matthew Brown, one of my top-5 HV20/30/40 videographers out there.

The iTampon misses the mark — since there’s no hole

Well, we lived to see that too: a major product by Apple that misses the mark. The iPad.

Where do I start with this?

Flash? No. How the hell is this supposed to take over netbook market? Without Flash it is a no-go. I can eat the bullshit that the iPhone can’t do Flash for this or the other reason, but not having it on the iPad is a major mistake. Even if Apple adds it eventually, the damage is done for this product’s prospects in the minds of consumers.

Keyboard? Not only this keyboard requires both your hands, but it requires your lap too. How’s that any better than a freaking netbook? Instead of implementing a RESIZABLE split-keyboard, and have the full screen keyboard only as an option for when you sit on a couch, they go with the full screen keyboard by default. This is a MAJOR mistake. The large bezel and screen makes it IMPOSSIBLE for people with small hands to type when in vertical mode either — our fingers are not long enough to reach the middle of the screen. This is where the *resizable* split-keyboard would be a LIFE SAVER. [Update 1: Gizmodo on the terrible input method. Fully agreed with them.]

No multi-tasking? What the hell? Again, how’s that any more useful than a netbook? Just because it looks nicer and has a nicer interface doesn’t mean that it’s essentially more useful than a netbook. Again, Apple puts form over function as a priority, but I have the feeling that this time that strategy won’t be so kind to them. People wanted something better than the iPhone, not just an enlarged version of it. Daily Finance wrote it best (thanks goes to Dominique for the link).

And then, just like Andreas wrote, no camera for video chat? Sure, I get it. AT&T wouldn’t want to overload their towers, and I respect that. But Apple could easily have implemented an iChat or VoIP SIP version (or having Skype do it) that would only use WiFi. You can lock down that shit in application level. But, nooooo….

The last part is that with AT&T’s 250 MBs per month for $15. I’m sorry, but 250 MBs are not enough for a netbook-killer device. For $15 bucks per month, that should have been at least 1 GB of data. The last time I checked, just Engadget’s front page is 1.3 MBs usually. Even by doing light web browsing, the 250 MB per month will be eaten up within a week by a modern internet-er. Easily.

Finally, Gizmodo also has a nice list of 9 things that suck on the iPad. Thanks for the link @AsAPeople. [Update 2: Not to mention the lack of a microSDHC (or SDHC) slot. Sure, the iPhone has the excuse of being a small device and not having extra space for a slot, but the iPad doesn’t have the luxury to lie to us about it. Selling the cheap version of the iPad with just 16 GB of storage, with no expansion option, is a slap in the face of the modern consumer.]

Jeez. What a freaking over-hyped piece of shit of a product this is. Sure, I still expect the iPad to make its R&D money back, but this is not the next “iPhone”, not by a long shot. This is not the next big thing. Not with this implementation anyway. It’s half-baked at the points where it counts. My main concern though is that this product is not half-baked because Apple didn’t have the time to work on these points, but because these were their design decisions. And this shows a possible problem at Apple right now. It’s very possible that they’re suffering from the Microsoft/IBM syndrome: that one of the dinosaur.

Update 3: Thanks to Guy for the video link!

As A People (live)

The following video, shot with the Canon 5D MarkII, contains snippets from a video I shot at the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco last Friday, for As A People, a local post-punk and politically charged band. Parts of the live recording will be used for the music video I’m putting together for the band. The second part of the shoot, under a day light, will take place soon. The track we shoot the music video for is “Solomon” (free download here).

Flatting the flat look

UPDATE MAY 2011: Canon engineers, along some specialists from Hollywood, developed the Technicolor CineStyle profile. It’s even flatter than superflat or extraflat profiles, with better color accuracy and dynamic range in the shadows. Don’t waste your time with any other profile, just get that one.

As you probably know, it’s important to shoot “flat” with your video camera, in order to help color grading in post, especially if you’re after the “film look”. Since I got the Canon 5D MarkII, I made sure I shoot as flat as possible: with the “Neutral” color setting, modified to have the contrast/saturation/sharpness settings on minimum, and its tint on +1.

So far, I’ve only shot two videos with the 5D, and I was not happy with the visual result. Yes, its picture quality is amazing for the price, but as the occasional filmmaker & colorist that I am, I need the kind of look directly out of the camera that I could get with a film camera, or the RED One. And the 5D, with tricked out color settings, it would still not give me what I wanted: the videos came out over-saturated, and over-contrasty for my taste. Sure, the videos were magnitudes less contrasty/saturated than when using the “auto” color modes, but they were still not what I wanted.

I tweeted about it yesterday, and some people suggested I try the Canon Picture Style Editor, which lets you edit these parameters even more. So I downloaded this famous package, which includes a Panalog-like curve (which I didn’t like), Marvel’s EX1-like Cine curve, one called “superflat”, and a pseudo-Velvia one.

Well, I’m still not happy with the results. None of these downloadable styles are what I wanted exactly, and to make the matter worse, the curve utility inside the Picture Style Editor sucks goats: you can’t move the two edges of the curve. Photoshop’s curve dialog can do it, but Canon’s utility can’t. Because of that, it’s impossible to get more detail in the dark places directly out of the camera. You see, whatever you can do IN-camera, is MUCH more desirable than doing it in post processing. IN-camera processing is higher quality, so what you get out of it is purer, and doesn’t bring out as much the h.264 artifacts when lowering contrast in post. But without a curve dialog that let’s me do more, I can’t tell the camera to shoot that way. To be fair, this feature didn’t need to exist in the past, because photographers don’t care about it, but filmmakers do. Now that dSLRs can shoot video, hopefully a better curve dialog will be implemented in the future by Canon.

So, I had to do with what I had. I edited Neil Stubbings’ “superflat” style, and created a new one called “ExtraFlat”. My version uses the “Neutral” look as a base instead, and it’s a tiny bit less contrasty, but a lot less saturated, and it doesn’t have the “red face” attribute of the video look. Of course, we should not forget that Canon uses extra processing when sizes down the sensor image to 1080p, but that’s a kind of processing we can’t control.


The ExtraFlat picture style was used to shoot this music video. Color grading in post was minimal.

You can download the ExtraFlat style for your Canon vDSLR camera here. Instructions on how to upload it to your camera after unzipping it, here. Make sure the “EOS Utility” is installed on your computer. Check the ExtraFlat style compared to the rest.

Now, please don’t start commenting again about how you prefer the “standard” contrasty/saturated look. I don’t care if it looks better as a FINAL still picture. Don’t think of this frame grab as the end result. Video footage of any artistic work HAS to go through color grading, and for that, you need a FLAT look to work on.

Look at how the pros do it. Check this 2k frame grab, directly out of the RED One camera (ungraded). Notice how it’s extremely low-saturation, low-contrast, and the people’s skin is almost PINK-GREY and not red as the consumer camcorders do it (check this HV20 frame for reference). With a Canon consumer camcorder, even if you use Cinemode+custom color settings, it’ll still look red-ish, compared to what the RED ONE does. Panasonic consumer HD cams are way worse, since not only they don’t go as far in color settings, but their footage is processed to be very red by default.

With the ExtraFlat style I get almost what I want out of the 5D, but more dynamic range could be acquired in-camera if the curve dialog in the Picture Style Editor was better implemented. The camera CAN do it, we just don’t have a way to TELL it to do it right now.

Update: Shot a small video of me testing the flesh tones of the ExtraFlat today. It was flat and non-red alright! And it graded so nicely. Going through the various grading templates, it offered a very pleasant look, across the board.

Fluid Form


Shot on a stock Canon HV20 by Matt Pringle. HD version here.

Breakdown of my iTunes library

Tonight I reached 7500 tracks in my iTunes library. A far cry from my husband’s 15,600 tracks (he’s got more CDs and Creative Commons tracks than I do), but that’s still 20.5 days of non-stop listening. For years we were only buying CDs, but 2009 was the year where we went mostly digital after iTunes went DRM-free. For us, that was the key to move to digital. I started collecting free promo mp3s sporadically back in 2006, but it was in 2009 when their numbers exploded in my iTunes library. In fact, I’ve noticed that especially after 2007, there’s a stream of freeware promo mp3s out there that gets bigger and bigger every year. Some indie artists give 1/3 of their album for free these days (e.g. Cold Cave)! Anyways, here’s the breakdown:

7500 tracks, 44.5 GB on disk, 20.5 days

2000 were bought from iTunes in 2009-2010 (we spent a fortune!)
300 were bought from Amazon in 2010
3700 are freeware, legal promotional mp3s or Creative Commons
1500 tracks were ripped from some of our bought CDs

2430 tracks were released in 2009
4000 were released in 2008-2009

5150 are tagged as “Alternative”
1180 are tagged as “Rock”

Only about 20%-30% of the tracks are from artists signed to major labels.

4150 tracks are starred so far:
660 tracks have 5 stars
1300 tracks have 4 stars
1635 tracks have 3 stars

Most played tracks:
1. “The Keys” by Dolorata
2. “Gold for Bread” by Blitzen Trapper
3. “The Tornado Lessons” by Cloud Cult
4. “Heads will Roll” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
5. “Sci-Fi Kid” by Blitzen Trapper

Most tracks by the same artist:
1. Madonna (190)
2. Depeche Mode (113)
3. Blitzen Trapper (68)
4. Portugal. The Man (62)
5. Coldplay (53)

Oldest track added in iTunes library:
New Years” by Asobi Seksu: 10/17/2006 11:08 PM
Newest track added:
Vapor Trail” by The West Exit: 1/15/2010 12:43 AM

Shortest track:
“Foreword” by Linkin Park: 14 seconds
Longest track:
“Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” by Iron Maiden: 13:35 minutes

Lowest Bitrate:
Induction” by Broken Spindles: 32 kbps
Highest Bitrate:
Various at 320 kbps (mp3)

UPDATE:
I was reading an article at OSNews and tried to answer the “is there profit in a world of file sharing” question (in my case legal promo mp3s, since I don’t pirate media). So I went back to my “Purchased” section of iTunes, and checked it out. I found that from the ~2000 iTunes tracks I bought:

1. 900 tracks were bought (just in 2009) because I discovered these bands via their promo mp3s in the last TWO years of collecting legal promo mp3s.

2. 350 tracks were bought after discovering the bands due to word of mouth (e.g. from friends on Twitter or IM).

3. 750 tracks were bought from bands I got to know by traditional media, e.g. TV/radio, over my LIFETIME. However, about 300 of these tracks are purchases made FOR my husband, and are not the kind of music I’d normally buy (while the numbers above are all for music bought for my own music taste). So this leaves the “traditional PR” artists with just 400 bought tracks.

So within a single year of starting buying digital music, I bought 900 tracks from bands I discovered just in the last 2 years. And only 400 tracks were bought for bands that I’ve known for many years via traditional means. I’d say that promotional, viral, mp3s work best for heavy internet users, way more than radio/TV promotion.

Frame snapshot out of the SX200 IS

This is a frame snapshot out of an already twice re-encoded 720p video, shot with the Canon SX200 IS. A friend of mine shot this recently, all “auto”. When light is adequate, the result is fabulous with these small Canon cams. Click for a larger PNG version.

How to achieve teal color grading

Love it or hate it, it’s in fashion. As Stu Maschwitz many times explained on his blog, the “teal” color is used a lot in the last 10 years in Hollywood. Either as teal, or towards blue or green, but definitely not “natural” red though. I used the same convention for the music video I shot a few months ago.

Yesterday someone asked me how it was done, so I decided to put this blog post together. Click the following image to view the arranged Vegas plugins used.

My home

This is my mountainous village where I originate from, Skiadas. I lived there from the ages of 2 to 4, and 9 to 12. It’s what I consider home. My father’s house can be seen in the picture too. I can’t believe how easily I was able to run through the climbs to reach other houses when I was a kid. If I would try the same thing today I’d probably die of a heart attack mid-way. My 82 year old grand father doesn’t have a problem with the landscape though, he still pushes through like a teenager. Anyways, I miss my home, I’m just mumbling.


Click picture for a larger view. Picture by Kostas Dimeris

From Wikipedia: Skiadas took that name because the ancient Greek God of the dead, Hades, would sometimes come out of his underworld to seek for some daily light (which its supposed entrance is only a few miles away from Skiadas at the nearby Serziana village — that my mother is from). But because he was sensitive to sun light, he preferred to stay near Skiadas where sun doesn’t shine before 11 AM and there’s lots of shadow (because of a high mountain in front of the village). ‘Skiadas’ means “the shadow of Hades” (in Greek: Σκιά του Άδη).

Skiadas is part of the Souli region, a collection of mountainous and hard-to-reach villages that never succumbed to Turks during the 400 years of Turkish occupation (well, not until a Greek traitor showed the Turks a secret passage). Interestingly, my grand-mother on my father’s side had the same surname as that traitor — a shame that we try to not think too much about in my family. 😉

Less is more

FCC Disclaimer: The following are my very own personal & truthful opinions.

Enthusiasts usually want the latest and greatest. They often go and buy expensive camcorders, dSLRs, or even 35mm adapters for them, only to never use them again after the novelty wears thin (and I’ve been guilty of it too). Or, more often than not, they use them, but they never fully use the equipment on its best of its ability. I know people who bought an HV20, and yet they always shoot in “auto” mode. They don’t take advantage of all the other features and settings the camera has to offer.

As some of you know, I’m a fan of the Canon SX200 IS, a $300 digicam that shoots 720/30p, and has more video manual controls than any other P&S digicam (read my review about SX200 IS’ video mode here). Around the same time the SX200 IS was announced, Canon also announced the SD780 IS. The SD780 IS has almost the same manual controls the SX200 IS has: exposure compensation & locking, contrast/saturation/sharpness control, manual white balance, macro/infinite focus modes, and focus lock. The only thing that’s missing compared to the SX200 IS is that it doesn’t have a manual focus mode, and that its lens is smaller, therefore letting less light hitting the sensor (so it’s noisier). But it’s $200, compared to the SX200 IS’ $300, so it’s acceptable.

My point is that these cams shoot good-enough video for the kinds of videos most people shoot. There is no reason to buy a camcorder, or even a dSLR if you’re not really serious about video. While a few more options would be nice (e.g. additional 24p frame rate, shutter speed support), even without these features, these digicams can offer amazing quality for the price. All it requires is to know how to shoot properly.

I wish people stop buying these terrible digi-recorders instead. They buy a Flip HD or the Kodak Z-series, while these Canon cams are actually much better for the same price: they have optical zoom, they’re smaller, they shoot still pictures too, they have optical stabilization, better lenses, higher bitrate codec, some exposure control, and other settings. Apparently, they also have a better microphone than any digirecorder, or Panasonic/Kodak P&S digicam too. In fact, the Sony and Panasonic digicams announced today at CES still don’t offer all the Canon video features, and Sony seems to be playing with our nerves for using just 6 mbps bitrate for their 720/30p video capture! Consider Canon’s 24 mbps.

I found this useful add-on for the SD780 IS that allows you to attach an ND filter and sunhood. For $50 you can get all three. The ND filter would help bring down the shutter speed, that’s normally too high on these cams, and the sunhood would help to not get CCD light artifacts.

So, while I already own an SX200 IS, I’m thinking of buying an SD780 IS to shoot a music video for a local band. Sure, I own an HV20 and a 5D MkII too. But I want to use the SD780 IS as part of “a project”. A project that details how to shoot properly, and what you can do with these small cams, in order to get an acceptable result out of them. I just want to prove to many people that you don’t need the best tool to create something that’s viewable. It’s not the camera that matters, it’s how you use it. From the moment you have the minimum acceptable tool in your hands, then all it takes is talent, not hardware. This proof of concept idea will end up costing me over $200 (I will probably buy some extra batteries too), but if I can convince one consumer, and one rock band to go that route instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment they don’t really need, it might actually worth it.

What has both surprised me and saddened me deeply is that after relentlessly searching for “artistic” or “atmospheric”, let’s say, videos on Youtube and Vimeo that were shot with either the SX200 IS or the SD780 IS, I found almost nothing! Except my own SX200 IS videos on Vimeo and this video, I found nothing else similar around. Every person who bought these cams (and they’re a lot of them) seem to be busy shooting their cats instead — handheld. They could do so much more! Same goes for most of the people who actually bought camcorders that don’t use in their fullest.

Such a waste.