Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Recently I received a query from a photographer friend-and-colleague about what audio recording system/method I use in producing my short nature video clips. Apparently he has a client who is planning to put together a training video on selling real estate. With some minor editing, here is my reply back:

I've done a lot of experimenting with audio while shooting video with my 5Dmk2, with a lot of background research and a fair expenditure on hardware and software. Additionally, I had done a great deal of research, principally at these forums:

1. Cinema 5D: http://www.cinema5d.com/index.php
2. DVInfo: http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/canon-eos-5d-mk-ii-hd/
3. Digital Photography Review: http://www.dpreview.com/

The onboard sound of the 5Dmk2 isn't the greatest for several reasons:

1. only records in mono
2. Automatic Gain Control (= a fair amount of hiss in a quiet environment)
3. picks up camera-handling sounds, Image Stabilizing sounds, zoom & focus sounds.

The quick-and-easy fix is:

(Please note that brand names and links are provided for convenience only; I do not work for nor receive commission from anyone.)

1. Rode Videomic shotgun mike. Easily attaches to camera hotshoe and plugs into the 3.5mm input jack of the camera. Only mono sound, but quite a bit better than the onboard sound, plus it tends not to pick up the handling sounds. For additional money Rode makes a stereo mic which is constructed a bit more robustly, also attaches to the camera hotshoe, and gives a better ambient sound (according to actual tests which have been posted to Vimeo).

2. Software: the customer should download Sony's Movie Studio 9.0b Platinum Edition (http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/moviestudiope). He can download the free trial (which I did) which gives him a week or two to try it out. It costs in the neighbourhood of $84.95 US. It's very intuitive, has a lot of professional features, and you can even burn a DVD disk (which are cheap) in Blu-ray format which is stunning in 1080p on a large LCD TV.

What I've done:

First, I still use the above for quick-and-easy production. I like Sony Vegas as a software program, plus with the Rode Videomic hooked into the Canon 5Dmk2 there is no sound synching to do afterwards -- a major plus in terms of speed and efficiency.

That said, I am now wading my way through Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 with all the software suites. This is pro-level stuff with a steep learning curve and price tag to match -- not a good idea if results are needed quickly. I still fall back on Sony Vegas when I need to put together a video quickly with good results.

Sound: I now tend to record sound separately on a Samson Zoom H4N audiorecorder which I ordered online from Steve's Music Store on Queen Street in Toronto:


At $439 CDN this is a highly-portable professional stereo audio recorder that is the best in the business in this price range. It has built in stereo microphones with a very clean pre-amp signal. This little jewel records onto standard SD memory cards and is very highly regarded in pro video circles. Later in post-processing, I synch the H4N recording to the coarser one I got simulaneously with the 5Dmk2's onboard mic, then mute the onboard sound so only the H4N's vastly superior sound quality is heard. All of my more recent nature videos are using the H4N this way. Warning: synching is a pain, although I'm getting better at it as I go. Apple's Final Cut Pro has a plug-in that you can buy called "Plural Eyes" that does this synching automatically, but nothing for Premiere Pro yet. I'll be first in line to get it when it does come out!!

Hope this helps and good luck!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Using Adobe's Premiere Pro CS4 After Effects to enhance your video

Have a look at this clip I posted in Vimeo: http://www.vimeo.com/6804553

Here I describe how I greatly improved the "washed out" appearance of a clip I had shot of a Great Blue Heron catching a fish. It was only a matter of a couple of mouse clicks to create a video that was a bit blah into something a lot more eyecatching.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blue Heron Catching a Minnow

I shot this video yesterday at the foot of the Mill Pond Dam in Jacob's Landing Park in Cambridge, Ontario. Got a hot lead from a buddy of mine (Thanks, Murr!) of egrets and Great Blue Herons that frequent this area.


This was a learning experience in a number of ways. Choosing the right background was key; the waterfalls from the dam was ideal in projecting "natural surroundings" as opposed to the manmade structures of cement walls, iron railings, floating plastic containers, etc. that you find in any inner-city location. I've not been too thrilled with the Canon 5Dmk2's sound recording capability, so I recorded separately with a Samson Zoom H4N stereo audio recorder. The heron was undisturbed by my shooting distance of approx 60 meters (it's no doubt acclimated to the many residents who pass by daily), so I was able to zoom in close with a Canon 100-400L telephoto with two Canon teleconverters (1.4 & 2.0) stacked on it.

I processed this clip in Adobe Premiere CS4, and adjusted contrast and sharpening in After Effects. True confession: the waterfalls drowned out the splash of the heron grabbing the fish, so........I have to admit I dubbed in the sound of me whacking a tub of water in my laundry room after the fact. Sue me. ;)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Burning Blu-ray disks on the cheap!

Anyone who has checked the price of a blank 25 GB Blu-ray disk has surely gulped as I have. The local electronic box stores have a tiny selection with individual disks costing $17 CDN or more!!! Also, a dedicated Blu-ray burner is required which is certainly going to set you back $400 - $500 at least (correct me if I'm wrong here; haven't sourced 'em out yet).

For those of us who produce small 5D2 (or other dslr video models) clips and would like to screen them on your huge home LCD 1080p TV from your Blu-ray movie player, here's a way to do it on cheap DVD blank disks using an ordinary DVD burner:

First, purchase (less than $90) from Sony online (http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/moviestudiope) their current version of Sony Vegas Movie Studio Platinum 9.0c. Yeah, it's gonna set you back $84.95 US, but you can download their free trial first to try this out and THAT will cost you nuthin'!

Second, fire up Sony Vegas and start a "New Project". Import your clips to the timeline. If you're going to do any editing first go to "edit", click on "select all", then hit Enter. Then go make a pot of coffee and relax for a bit -- Sony Vegas is "pre-rendering" your raw .mov footage to make it run smoother within the program as you edit it. This makes is much better (and accurate) for snipping, adding effects/transitions, etc......but it does take some time for this pre-rendering to complete, depending on the power of your PC cpu.

Once all your editing is done, again go to "Edit" and click on "Select All"

Click on "Make Movie"

Select "Burn DVD, Blu-ray, or CD"

Then enter these settings:


Put a fresh blank DVD into your chosen DVD burner and hit "OK"

Go finish your coffee

The freshly-burned DVD should play quite nicely in your home Blu-ray player.

Let me know how this turns out for you. Again: get the free trial version of Sony Vegas first, so if it doesn't work you simply expended a bit of time (and wasted a single cheap DVD disk).

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stacking teleconverters

One of the biggest challenges in photographing and videographing small songbirds is getting close enough to "fill the frame" before the shy little creatures fly off. Ever alert to stalking predators, the photographer frequently needs to set up in a blind and wait patiently near a feeding site in the hopes that an unwary subject will venture close to allow a decently close shot.

Another tactic is go heavy on telephoto glass, where 300 - 400 mm is the bare minimum lens required to get a sufficiently detailed image of a small bird. To that end, I stacked two Canon teleconverters, 1.4 and 2.0, onto my Canon 100-400 L telephoto zoom. The advantage is obvious in that the effective focal length on my 5D Mark 2 dslr totals out to 1120 mm -- certainly capable of giving me some decent working distance from a nervous songbird. However, there are some formidable downsides to this stacking arrangement:

1. loss of light: a full 3 stops of light are lost with this arrangement, rendering maximum aperture from the normal f5.6 of the 100-400 lens at full 400 extension down to f13 maximum aperture with the stacked teleconverters. Not too much of a problem at high noon in bright sunlight, but huge in the dimmer light of sunrise or heavy overcast (sometime both!). When shooting video with the 5D2 the only options are to reduce the frame exposure to its minimum 1/30 sec and increase ISO radically to boost light sensitivity to the sensor. Fortunately, the 5D2 works wonderfully in low light situations which may well defeat other smaller-sensored vidcams.

2. camera shake: always magnified with telephoto and macro lenses, the high 1120mm focal length (= zoom of 22.4x) is brutal when showing camera vibrations. A solid tripod/video head is the only answer here. Even very slight camera movement is distracting and detracts from the subject material.

3. manual focus: any lens with a maximum aperture greater than f5.6 will not have auto focus on the Canon 5D2. Even at the relatively closed aperture of f13, the Depth of Field of this lens combination to a subject 10 meters away will be a scant 7 cm -- which feels razor thin when trying to manually adjust focus on a flitting target! Again, patience is key as well as a fine touch on the focus adustment wayyyyy out in front of you!!

This is short 2 minute clip shot a few days ago of a mated pair of Northern Cardinals shot in the early morning from my deck at the side of my house. The light was dim, but the electronic "noise" isn't too bad at such a high ISO (6400):


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Canon 5D Mark 2 videomaking

The Canon 5D Mark 2 dslr has the ability to shoot videos along with more traditional still photos. To date, this camera's video capability is unique in that it has a large full frame CMOS sensor which gives superior low-noise, low light performance. The large sensor also allows for extremely thin Depth of Field which can isolate the subject from fore- and background objects; an extremely powerful effect. Additionally, by the very nature of a dslr, videos can be shot using a wide variety of lenses.....telephoto, wide angle, macro, etc. etc.

However, frustrations do exist! Canon opted to hamstring the operation of this video aspect by eliminating the ability to manually control ISO, shutter speed, and aperture; these are all controlled automatically by the camera in the order given. There is manual control of white balance, picture style, and exposure compensation which is a good thing. Rumour in the industry has it that Canon is working on adding these manual features (and more!) in a future firmware upgrade. Those-that-know claim the set of Ironman II actually has several Canon 5D Mark 2's on the set with beta copies of this firmware upgrade that is being tested.

Here is an example of some edited clips I put together this afternoon from footage (right term?) I took last Sunday of the little critters that inhabit our backyard. More on the equipment and workflow I used for this Spielberg-worthy production in my next blog:


(don't forget to click on the little "HD" icon at the bottom right of the Youtube screen to get the full resolution)

Sunday, April 26, 2009


First of all, welcome to my Digital Nature Photography blog! I'm looking forward to sharing my photographic experiences with all of you and receiving your input in return. Many of my photos (nature and otherwise) I post to my public gallery at: http://www.pbase.com/daverilstone .... and I likewise encourage you to visit and leave any comments you wish.

Most of my equipment is Canon -- cameras and lenses, plus I use a wide variety of peripheral accessories such as Giotto and Manfrotto tripods & heads, camera/lens bags from Lowepro, ThinkTank, etc., plus I've had very good luck with the Canadian-made Jobu gimbal mount for my long, heavy lenses. Recently I acquired the new Canon 5D Mark 2 dslr, so I've dabbled with high-def video as well......and discovered that the workflow process is quite involved. Although I've posted some of my avian video handiwork on Youtube and Vimeo, I'm loathe right now to provide the links until I've had a chance to "polish up" these rather undistinguished examples of cinemaphotography.

Stay tuned for future entries!