Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Manfrotto 536 Tripod - It Pays to Shop Around!!!

Recently I acquired Manfrotto's excellent new 504HD video tripod head for its additional weight-handling capacity over my current 501 model. I also wanted to upgrade the tripod to a Manfrotto 536 carbon fibre, again for its extra sturdiness & stability coupled to light weight for carrying in the field.

Having purchased the 504HD head through Henry's, I noted that the price of the 536 tripod was also similar to Vistek's (see below) -- both prices pretty steep at over $1000 CDN delivered. On a whim I checked B&H Photo in New York just for reference and got a huge eye opener!!!!! Check the table below and see why I ordered from The Big Apple:
Henry's: Price: $949.99 (+HST tax: $123.50; +shipping: $9.95) Total: $1083.44
Vistek: Price: $939.95 (+HST tax: $122.19; shipping=free) Total: $1062.14
B&H: Price: $564.00 (+Duty: $36.07; +GST tax: $30.00; +shipping $47.71) Total: $677.78

I held off posting this until today when I received the final invoice from UPS for the B&H shipment tax and duty charges. As you can see, I would've paid a whopping $405.55 MORE by purchasing locally at Henry's, with Vistek marginally better at a still-outrageous $384.36 MORE going into their pockets. To be honest, I feel I can better put that cash to use on more equipment for ME.

As they say, "Caveat emptor"...."Let the buyer beware".

Here's how the Manfrotto 504HD/536 setup looks with my Canon dslr/telephoto setup with Rode Videomic and Marshall 7" HDMI:

It's a fair weight all up, but this head & tripod combination readily handles it well.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sunhood on the cheap!

A few months ago I acquired a 7" Marshall monitor (model V-LCD70XP-HDMI) which has proven invaluable in my wildlife video efforts. As with all quality items, it don't come cheap. To add to the sticker shock one must further purchase a battery (mine is a Sony BP-U60) and a charger for it: cha-ching! By the time the smoke cleared, I was into this thing, tax in, for over $1500 CDN. Ouch!

That said, this 7" LCD has paid for itself in three major ways:

1. Its larger screen is easier to see and, with the proper hotshoe holder (I use a sturdy Manfrotto 482), can be angled in any direction. This saves your back and really helps when shooting at low angles.

2. Its peaking filter is a major help in focusing while recording. Although I usually use the Canon 7D's 5X or 10X liveview feature to prefocus whenever possible, this ability to fine focus is lost during actual recording. The peaking filter overcomes this dilemma.

3. The false colour filter is essential for achieving accurate exposure. Histograms only give an overall exposure profile of the entire frame, the false colour filter shows the exposure level of each individual object and subject within the frame while recording. This was brought home to me while shooting a bright white egret on a sunny day -- its white feathers would have been blown out if not for the false colour filter enabling me to dial in optimal aperture/ISO/ND variofilter settings while actually recording.

But speaking of sunny days......

The 7" Marshall monitor can be turned way up in brightness to combat the overall glare of sunny surroundings. The screen can get washed out in direct sunshine. So, I priced the Hoodman 7" High Def Monitor Hood at Vistek in Mississauga: $119.95

WHOA!! $119.95? Plus tax??? (= 13% "Harmonized" Sales Tax in Ontario). No way!!!!!

On Twitter, I stumbled upon www.CoolLCD.com Previously an unknown site to me, it has interesting stuff. Of note was a 7" sunhood at ........ $16.20 Holy smokes! Possibly not the enduring quality of a $120 Hoodman, but that's cheaper than the tax alone on the Hoodman!!

With reckless abandon, I clicked "Add to cart". Going completely hogwild, I noticed they had a HDMI-miniHDMI cable only 0.5 meters in length at $5.90. Whack! "Item 2" got Added to Cart. Choosing DHL as a carrier, the cost of shipping was gonna slam another $20 to the total, but for about $40 I was good to go. I ordered on Thursday night, opting to use PayPal. It got processed on Friday. This shipment was out of China -- apparently they had a holiday weekend, so it didn't leave the China Mainland until Tuesday. It was in my hands Thursday morning -- less than a week from when I ordered it, with a Chinese Holiday thrown in. Not bad.

Here's what I got: (not counting the Marshall 7" monitor, of course)

The top edge had a strip of velcro fastener securely sewn in, plus it came with the narrow velcro straps you can see in the picture. These narrow straps are useless -- I snipped 'em off. Instead, I went to the nearest Fabricland and, for all of $3.48 bought a one-meter length of velcro 3/4" black velcro tape - the kind that you can peel off the white paper backing to stick the velcro onto a hard surface. This stuff:

I snipped off enough to cover the sides and top of the monitor (about 10") -- this is what the velcro edge of the CoolLCD sunhood affixes to. And it works! Take a look:

Here's a closeup of the velcro tape on the monitor:

As you can see, the 3/4" velcro tape fits perfectly without blocking any switches or ports. The sunhood is open at the bottom, giving easy access to the button controls at any time.

As a bonus, here is the small HDMI cable I also purchased at $5.90 (compared to the bigger one-meter HDMI cable on the left that I've been using up 'til now ):

It's actually only about 15" long or so -- but less length to deal with and less weight on the plugs to cause an accidental pullout at the worst possible time! Here's how it looks on the camera:

Compare this to the ungainly longer one (now my "spare" cable):

I was always worried I would accidently tangle or pull on this overly-long cable, and a couple of times I got an "ERR" message on my upper 7D display because one of the HDMI plugs had partially pulled out!

Finally, I have to thank my daughter's visiting kitty, "Daphne" for her unceasing assistance while I was trying to sort out velcro straps for the bench photos taken above:

OK, OK, that last bit was too cute, I know. It's Friday night, what can I say? Hey, any comments or Great Thoughts on the above? Put in the Comments/Great Thoughts section below!

Hope this is useful info for you!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Do It Yourself Hand Focus Crank

This is a slick little idea I picked up off the internet on the "Hack a Day" website to make life a little easier when shooting video with dslr cameras -- a Do It Yourself Hand Focus Crank.

Exploiting the slim Depth of Field that dslr's offer with their large sensors, a common technique is to change focus while shooting to draw attention to the subject. Ideally, a full-out system with follow focus, whips, rails, camera cage, etc. etc. are used to adeptly dial in focus with no camera shake. This is nigh impossible when trying to adjust focus by twisting the focus ring directly by hand -- no matter how securely the dslr is anchored to its sturdy tripod -- camera shake inevitably occurs. This camera shake is magnified when using telephoto and macro lenses and this really detracts from the quality of the video itself.

Do It Yourself Hand Focus Crank from David Rilstone on Vimeo.

Follow focus systems are expensive; no getting away from that. Likewise, I priced some commercially-made focus cranks and found that they, too, can run into some heavy cash, especially if you're looking at doing several lenses. This setup I've described on this clip looks a little Rube Goldberg-ish, but it DOES work amazingly well. I'm prepared to forgive a lot aesthetically if something actually helps me get the job done effectively....and CHEAPLY. A hose clamp, small carriage bolt and locking nuts cost less than $5 total -- THAT is cost effective in anyone's books!

This little clip was shot with a Canon 5D Mark 2, a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L lens, Marshall 7" HDMI monitor (invaluable when self-video'ing), set on a very sturdy Manfrotto 504HD video head and 536 carbon-fibre tripod. Reference audio was done with a Rode Videomic plugged directly into the 5D, with secondary/final sound recorded on a Samson Zoom H4N audio recorder. Final editing was done in Adobe's wonderful CS5 version of Premiere Pro.

Whew! Thanks for watching. Please be sure to visit the website I've noted above -- lots of helpful tips there and I'm glad I stumbled upon it. Any thoughts or suggestions PLEASE add in the Comment section below