A Video Test using the Sony a99 Camera.

Anton Nel. An interview done with the Sony a99. A snippet. from Kirk Tuck & Will van Overbeek on Vimeo.

I'd read a lot of stuff on the web about the Sony a99 being "soft." The contention is that the new camera doesn't render details and sharpness well. Here we come to the nasty part of the web. Everything gets compressed and re-sized when it hits the web in a way that lends itself to mass distribution. That means the images I saw from the full resolution HD files (1080p @ 24 fps, lowest compression) had to be sized to 720 HD for uploading into Vimeo, which I use as sharing source.  Then Vimeo does some file processing as well. And God only knows what's really happening when our ISPs rush all this stuff down the pipes.

All of that to say that the embedded video is only 500 pixels wide but if you click on the "HD" symbol in the bottom right corner of the video frame you'll be presented with the option of seeing the 720HD version at Vimeo. Just click on the link.

I'll never be able to settle everyone's concerns about video sharpness. Not without inviting them over to the studio to watch the footage before we transcode the ACVHD files into Final Cut Pro X. But if you want a verbal take here is is: It looks a bit better than my files did from my Canon 5D mk2. It has lots of detail for the application I was using it for. While I don't like the ACVHD files and wished there were more options I do know how to convert the files to formats that are easier to edit. It just takes time.

Where the camera really excels is in the ease of sound recording (and live monitoring) and the quality of the sounds recorded.  It's the first DSLR video camera I've used that has a headphone jack and it's the right way to monitor the audio. Yes, I heard the door slams and the cars outside during some of the sample takes.

This is not a finished video product and has not been "graded" (video cinema lingo for "post production").  It is presented here and on Vimeo as a controlled, real world sample. That's all.

Hope it's helpful.  Kirk

Free Speed.

What's the fastest and most relaxing part of your swim? Where do you get free speed? That's easy. It's on your push off from the wall. But amazingly, this is where so many people lose time and increase the difficulty of their swims.

You only need to work on three parts. First, you need to plant your feet stably on the wall, have 90 degree bend to your knees, and then push off with strength and intention. The second, and most critical cog of the whole equation, is all about technique. You must streamline your body position so that you present the smallest amount of resistance to the water and the longest body configuration you can to the water.

To do a good streamline you have to really reach with your arms. Unlike the swimmer in the (artistic) representation above you'll need to bring both arms in so close that they smash right against your ears. And both arms need to connect at the hands to present the water with a point instead of two points.

Another way to enhance your streamline is to be sure and point your toes toward the wall you just pushed off. If you don't point your toes the whole tops of your feet become water breaks and they'll quickly slow down and stop your forward motion. You should also pull in your stomach (if needed) so the water flows over straight lines.

Many of us feel as though we're standing straight and, by extension, our streamline is as straight as an arrow but.....I would invite you to stand against a convenient walls and press your whole self against it with your hands in the streamline position, pressed against the ears with hands locked high above. Can you feel how much of your body is NOT in contact with the wall?

Work with the wall and your spine until you can feel a nearly continuous contact with the wall, then you'll know you're getting closer to your optimum body position.

The third part of a good push off the wall is patience. Most people are either to anxious to get swimming or they fear running out of breathe. The optimum push off technique is to hold your glide until you decelerate to your normal swimming speed. If you were racing you'd give up some of the free rest that you get from the push off by starting an underwater dolphin kick, which continues to drive forward speed, at this point but we're just talking about fun swimming here.....

Hold that glide until you start to match your swim pace and then re-start your stroke. For maximum efficiency try to take the first stroke or two off the wall without breathing and without "picking up" your head to look around. The longer you stay in the streamline position the faster your stroke will be.

In swimming we think of the walls as free speed.  In photography we think of tripods as free speed.  With good application of good technique you'll go faster, go further and expend less energy. Seems like a good idea.

Feet planted. Strong, fast push off into a very streamlined position. The patience to take advantage of a long log curve of free speed. Hold your breath and relax. Same as with art.

Holy Cra-Apple. Video formats make raw look sane.

So, I have this new Sony camera and it's supposed to be really, really good at making video files. If you're hard core you can skip your in camera memory card and the pedestrian 4:2:0 file structure, and the highly compressed files your camera wants to make so your computer doesn't have a file thrombosis, and you can spool uncompressed 4:2:2 files straight out of the HDMI plug and into an external reader/hard disk. The cheap, decent HDMI recorders start around $1,200.  This is great for the people who are playing in the big, big leagues but most of us want to shoot compressed because we don't have a server room back at the studio dedicated to transcoding video and editing big, 10 bit video files.

Most photographer/multi-media folks I know want to be able to shoot on a good video camera or DSLR camera, get enough material on some 16 gig memory cards to make it worth our whiles and have some sort of compromise between compression and quality that works for our clients. We're shooting for local theaters, restaurants, and the usual business interview kind of stuff. We try to toss in a little art from time to time.  The finished work needs to be good and high definition but we're not ready (and our clients haven't saved up enough) for ultra high def (4K)  and all the storage, editing and nonsense that comes with it.

I figured that the big Sony a99, shot at 1080p @24 fps with the lowest compression setting should look pretty good on the old 40 inch TV in the living room. I'll be damned if we'll ever know.... (just kidding....kinda).

Thing is that the camera shoots a format called AVCHD. The people at Apple seem to regard it with the same curiosity travelers regard tapeworms and encephalitis, they don't want to get near it.
But the problem for me is that every computer within a 100 yards of my reach is an Apple product. When I insert a recently shot SD card from the big Sony the Apple kind of rolls its eyes and creates some wacky file folders called, "Private." I can click on them but I never get to see the individual .MTS files I need to get to....very frustrating. Many tricks and much ancient lore must be used to see what I want....the control key being critical.

I can look at the files on a friend's PC and they open right up and play. But on my machine I can only really get a good look at them if I import them into Final Cut Pro X and wait for seven coffee breaks for the buggy-ass program to transcode all the files. It converts them to Apple ProRes, which works fine, but by then the magic is gone, my attention span has gone down faster than the stack of new Boeing Dreamliner orders and I am, for all intents and purposes, grounded. And not in a good, electrical way. At this point I'd even watch European football rather than wait for the magic transcode elves to do their mediocre magic.

Apple likes movie formats that are called .Mov files. There are also beasts called Apple Intermediate Codec, or AIC files. The bling-puters like these too. But you can always buy a stand alone transcoder to convert anything to anything. You just have to spend more time and money and you have to make sure the trade-offs in final image quality don't push you out of the quality/investment paradigm you've been trying to establish from the beginning.

I hate trying to run Final Cut Pro X on even a fast machine while the program transcodes files in the background. It slows down everything. On bigger projects I've been setting up a second work station just to transcode clips from AVCHD to Apple ProRes or AIC while I edit on my primary station. Anything to speed up the flow.

While my primary system is great for day to day Photoshop and batch raw conversions for still images I can see that as video becomes a bigger and bigger part of my workload I'll either need to speed more on computer power and storage or smile and make nice with a skilled editor who has already made that kind of investment.

Realization: I'm pretty good at shooting the stuff. I hate to edit and would love to foist that off on anyone who needs to spend time alone in front of the screens.

So, I finally got everything imported and looked at the files. The stuff looks good. Really good. Better than I hoped. I just wish the whole process was as easy as pulling Jpegs into Lightroom...

Apple needs to spend some of that reserve cash to fine tune a couple things. They need to have some program like Preview that will open and show any kind of video file you even wave next to your machine. Then they need to nicely ask FCP-X not to grab every last shred of RAM with the intention of never sharing it again with any other program until you re-start your machine.

And I think the my monitor needs to be about 2 inches wider. And I think their should be an emulation mode in FCP-X so you can see, approximately, how your work will appear on a TV screen.

Finally, does NTSC really stand for "Never Twice the Same Color?"

Yeah. A video rant. Yawn.

Buy your stuff with our links and we'll make sure the lab continues to.....experiment.

Good Stuff from LL.

I like Michael Reichmann's latest essay. It touched on a some themes I like. To wit: That we've achieved a technical plateau with excellent tools and processes, and now it's time to concentrate on the actual images. Here's what he writes: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/essays/why_what_works.shtml

I was walking last week and I noticed this stack of paper on a table next to a downtown trailer that sells coffee. It was a Sunday New York Times. It brought back to me the memory of buying our copy from Watson's bookstore in Clarksville (an older Austin Neighborhood), getting coffee and pastries from Sweetish Hill Bakery and then sitting out on the lawn in front of the bookstore and having a leisurely read. Belinda and I would swap sections and the magazine and jostle each other to point out interesting stuff. It's been years since I bought a paper copy. I read the NYT on my iPad while I'm waiting for the family to wake up. It all changes.

Sometimes I'll find an article that Ben will like or that my friend, Paul, might need to read and I'll send them links.

The thing I really miss about the paper copy is the Sunday Magazine. It's not the same to me on the iPad or even on my bigger monitor. But life is a process of adapting to change.

on other fronts: I've been battling a common cold for the last week and it's kept me out of the pool and away from the running trail. I am happy to report that I got back into the pool this morning and swam the masters workout with about 30 other hard working swimmers. All before the sunrise.

I'm celebrating by tossing a random swim photo onto the blog:

Backstroke Start. UT Pool.

Prince Rainier Swim Pool. At the Harbor in Monte Carlo. A great place to swim laps....

2010 Masters Indoor Nationals. UT Pool.

2010 Masters Indoor Nationals. UT Pool.

2010 Masters Indoor Nationals. UT Pool.

2010 Masters Indoor Nationals. UT Pool.

2010 Masters Indoor Nationals. UT Pool.

Some camera notes from the weekend: I shot video interviews for Zachary Scott Theatre with the Sony a99 camera on Sunday. The footage looked amazingly good to me. Very sharp and beautiful tones. The camera's front mounted audio level controls worked well and the Sennheiser wireless microphones I used were really good. I hope the editor for the project will have a series of PSAs that we can roll out on the site over the course of the week. 

I also used Sony a57 camera on a shoulder mount and was very happy with its performance as well. More as I settle back into the office.

Finally: My big job this morning is to write thank you notes to the eight team members of a high tech company that helped facilitate my two days of shooting with their CEO, last week. The jobs were fun. It's my reminder to my fellow freelancers out there not to put off thanking their clients. I don't know if it works for everyone but I sure love it and it makes me all warm and tingly when I get a nice thank you note from an assistant or second shooter I've just worked with....