Digital Video Expo 2013 - The Future of Drones, DSLRs and The Magic of Magic Lantern

DV EXPO 2013

“They’re Here!!”


I could start with all the high class educational offerings DV EXPO 2013 made available such as Canon’s new DSLR and cinecams (C100), Robbie Carman's course on color keying with DaVinci Resolve, Premiere Pro Certification or the Eran Stern's secrets of motion tracking with After Effects Mocha;but perhaps one of the most newsworthy and timely discussions might be about the new drone camera technology that was on display at DV Expo.  The top company putting this equipment out is Quadrocopter.  Drones are merely mini-copters with camera rigs that can be remote controlled.  It’s operated from a pad that resembles a game controller except this one costs $1,500 and interfaces with the Quadrocopter navigation system that includes GPS. 

drone controller

It can be used to fly over crowds, rescue hikers and can get indie productions otherwise horribly expensive and elaborate shots fairly inexpensively.  This is the cableless airborne version of the Football skycam which we have all seen operate for years and even that crashed onto the field at the BCS Insight Bowl. (click here to view crash)

Drone cameras have been in the news lately and most of it has been bad…, very bad.  Whether it was the drone camera that flew into a grandstand and injured members of the audience at Great Bull Run or the one that almost landed on Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany; as drones have fallen from the sky the integrity of their reputation has plummeted.  The havoc however has almost always been wreaked by amateurs or those trying to go where no copter should or has gone before.



There has been and continues to be, a majority of true artists, cinematographers and technicians who use this technology to create tableaus unavailable before the advent of the drone cams.  As is demonstrated in this video of the making of Gettysburg, director/producer Jake Boritt, shows what can be done to imbue the movie with the sense of history and the natural majesty of this national monument.



One of the focuses of at the expo was Canon’s training on image acquisition with their new C100 and C300 cinemacams.  Perhaps the most useful training as it explains the best way to navigate the newest camera formats and take advantage of their strengths and become aware of their limitations so you can prevent coming away with bad or uncorrectable video or image captures.  There are a number of intricacies and differences between the current lines of cameras.  The big contenders at the $6000 and under are of course the Canon C100 $5500 (all prices are for body only), Sony  FS100  $5100 , Canon 5D MkIII $3,500 and the most interesting new kid on the block is the Black Magic Production Camera 4k $4000. The camera tests for the Sony and Canon cameras are outlined by Magnanimous Video below ( caution the Sony they used had dust on the sensor so it really looks better than in video). 


I am in the minority, but the Black Magic Production Camera 4k (shipping soon) which shoots in RAW 4k, offers the most, because you get the state of the art color grading (color correction and finishing) program DaVinci Resolve worth about $1000 for free and the camera in a package for under $4000 (the Pocket Cinema Camera for under $1000 comes without Davinici).   SHOOTING IN RAW=Better dynamic range (like the difference between a quality point and shoot and a quality dslr), the ability to correct mistakes made on your shoot and color correct.  You still must expose your shot but if you are off you got the leeway to fix it. But not everything can be fixed in post and raw video needs some program like DaVinci Resolve or  Adobe Premiere to make it look "fabulous"Although raw has limitless capabilities it does not always look so great right out of the "cam".   

Raw before and after grading

The 4K production camera and the Black Magic Cinema Camera, which shoots in 2.5k raw (now priced at $2.000 of the impending release of the 4K cam), both have built in SSD recorders to handle that HUGE amount of data.

When Shooting Raw or uncompressed  you are getting much more data than  with a similarly priced dslr or camera like the C100. Thank God Black Magic had the foresight to put in SSDs. For cameras that don't, the solution is to pick up an external device like the Convergent Design Odyssey7, the most advanced and elegant storage solution (used by the pros for everything from Alexa (ARRIRAW, full 16:9 and 4:3 support), Canon C500 4K Raw, to Sony Raw for the FS700.  It is probably a better monitor than you have on your DSLR or movie camera and, it has an amazing set of capabilities that no other smilarly priced monitor has, as demonstrated in the video from NAB 2013 provided by Next Wave DV.


Too complicate things further; there is a camera firmware hack (for Canon cameras) by Magic Lantern (created in 2009 and updated regularly). A free software add-on, Magic Lantern, runs from the SD/CF card; that in combination with the Convergent Design Odyssey7, ($1295) Atmos Ninja-2 ($695) or 64 gig superfast expensive internal card, gets you improvements no one could have imagined. You can bypass 8bit limitations to record up to 14-bit uncompressed RAW video to your CF/SD card.  Besides shooting raw you can record HDR video, record wav audio, monitor audio through USB port, manual audio level control (disabling the dreaded auto gain yay). Without any external add ons you can rack focus, crop to format (crop marks for size and aspect ratio you are using), use Magic Zoom, a feature available on the Red Cam that magnifies an area you want to focus on while you are in the middle of a shot. Perhaps my favorite feature is Peak Focus, which populates the screen with lots of little dots telling you what is in focus and what is not.  In the viewer you also have a spot meter and a built in histogram (levels for Photoshop users).

CAUTION this hack is not simple and like all hacks beware the unexpected bugs or locking of your camera with your battery just draining and draining. DO NOT DOWNLOAD THIS IF YOU WANT YOUR CAMERA TO DO THINGS FOR YOU AUTOMATICALLY!! To see what can go wrong with this software, go to Magic Lantern's emergency page.  It is like changing which operating system your computer boots to.  You boot your Canon up and some people freak out and scream, "Where are my menus!!!" The good news is if you have a Canon Mark 5D Mark III there is a firmware update that allows you to record uncompressed HDMI out from your camera. Magic Lantern does more but this is way easier. In addition the new Canon 5D MarkIII DOES NOT HAVE THE MOIRE ISSUES!  


Booting to magic lantern after install


 If you have a 5D Mark III you may want to wet your whistle with this video shot by Johnnie Behiri.

You may not have a MarkIII so if you're nervous about installing the Magic Lantern hack relax. The the users on the forum (its been downloaded now over thousands of times) say you you can reformat the SD Card Magic Lantern is loaded on and the camera will unlock. Wedding photographers love the flexibility it gives inexpensive cameras.  They love the MANUAL features. If you want to see the actual workflow invovled in hacking with Magic Lantern please see this Magic Lantern hacking for dummies (I am one) article provided by Cinema 5D. For those recording in their Canon, they are also suggesting the Hoodman Steel class 7 64 gb compactflash card, 1000x high speed which retails for $349 (ouch) which gets you the full raw data sources recorded.


The added capabilities Magic Lantern gives your Canon

Canon cameras that can use this hack (5Dc, 5D2, 5D3, 6D, 7D, 40D, 50D, 60D, 500D (T1i), 550D (T2i), 600D (T3i), 650D (T4i), 700D (T5i), 1100D (T3), EOS M, 100D (SL1)) still may have aliasing issues and moire problems (on the 7D it can be fixed with VAF-7D Moire-Aliasing Filter).  David Kong explains the magic of Magic Lantern when used with budget camera Canon T2i/550D ($470-$550) click here.

There is a huge debate between models and types of cameras.  Before you spend thousands of dollars check out all the reviews and columns by Phillip Bloom the best and most thorough and even handed reviewer in the business.  His view on all of this emphasizes the fact that people should get the camera they NEED not neccesarily what they want or is the most capable. Certainly if you are not into color grading and getting the add ons needed for Black Magic Cinema 4k then get the C100. Be aware the C 100 has limitations and be prepared to see something coming out tomorrow, next month or next year that will make you sorry you didn't wait.


pivothead wearable HD glasses

These glasses stylish as they are, will record Hi Def video at 1080p (1920 x 1080) and audio at  44.1khz, the industry standard.  Okay, you say but I have an iPhone 5, so why spend the money?  Well it’s a better camera in recording picture and sound (unless you get the IK Multimedia iRIG Pre a mic preamp )  than your iPhone, smartphone or tablet.  Great for recording your next gig or your next motorcycle race as demonstrated by the clip below.

Though it is outperformed by the GO Pro Hero3+  it is a lot less bulky and has a super wide field of view  without any distortion and you can get prescription lenses for these puppies. You as a gorilla cameraman can be totally discreet by adding a piece of black or colored gel over the lense.  I will appeal to those who would use these to not to do so for nefarious purposes.  Intrusive heat seeking little paparazzi’s passing themselves off as photographers or "artistes"may be tempted by these.  Please show some restraint.  They are available now locally at Samy’s Camera and list for $299.

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