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The DataBrick NLE from Savage IO

testdrive_neal raineydsc_3018The editing world is continually changing with all of the new large-format video cameras that keep flowing into the market. While a large amount of pixels makes these cameras a great choice for professionals, there’s one downside: you’ll need a computer that can process huge data streams. It’s easy to edit a few streams of DV25 on a laptop, but uncompressed 10-bit and 2K to 5K footage needs something a lot larger and more robust. Our software choices are also changing.


SCARLET-X: “EPIC Lite” for Those on a Tight Budget?

redThe RED ONE and EPIC cameras have raised the bar for thousands of productions, even those shoots with modest budgets. But what about the little guy who wants to shoot digital on a shoestring budget? A great solution for that scenario is RED’s new SCARLET-X camera. The price for the SCARLET-X brain plus a solid-state disc drive (SSD) is $9,750. (For a kit with battery, controller and LCD, the cost will be around $14,000, depending on the options.)

The SCARLET-X’s 5K Bayer-type sensor enables the capture of 4K and 4K HD (16: 9) RED RAW at 24 and 30 fps; 3K at up to 48 fps; 2K at up to 60 fps and 1K at up to 120 fps. You can even capture 5K at a maximum frame rate of 12 fps, but this is a bit frustrating as it is close yet not close enough to 24 fps to be useful. For that you’ll have to pay for an EPIC (at several times the price). The SCARLET-X does have many other features from the EPIC, like its high dynamic range (HDR) in which the highlights are protected to achieve an exposure latitude of up to 18 stops. To achieve this, the camera captures two streams of video: one exposed for the highlights and the other for shadow. The tradeoff is that maximum frame rates are cut in half (for example, 30 fps vs. 60 fps maximum in 2K mode). The SCARLET-X can be operated and powered via the RED pistol grip for a minimum of a half-hour by 37/Wh RED volt batteries; for two hours by brick-style 153/Wh RED Li batteries; or by various capacities and brands Li batteries hooked to its power port.

Lens-wise, the SCARLET-X can be outfitted with either a standard cinema PL mount or standard Canon EF mount. The camera is unique in that it enables some auto functions, like auto-exposure and focus, with many of Canon’s latest EOS prime and zoom (DSLR) lenses. The mounts can readily be switched by loosening a few screws, and the same will soon be true with other brands, like Nikon. Audio-wise, the SCARLET-X can record up to four channels of 44/48 kHz (PCM) audio via a pair of mini-plug inputs on the front plate and monitored via a mini-plug headphone jack. Color-coded audio levels are adjustable through a touch-activated VU meter on the LCD screen. Color-coded audio levels are displayed in the lower-right corner of the viewfinder, but you’ll need to find your own mic mount and utility shoe to mount it on.

The camera’s audio and video are recorded to solid-state RED magazines available in sizes from 16, 32, 64, 128 and 256GB at up to 180mb/s. The RED mags can be offloaded several times faster than standard CF cards. Once on the desktop, the RAW files can be color corrected and even edited (cuts only) as well as exported to other Apple Mac or PC-based editing/effects apps, including Final Cut Pro and Avid programs.

I tested the SCARLET-X with RED’s Canon EOS package, including a RED side handle, two 37/Wh RED volt batteries, RED View 5-inch LCD VF monitor and a RED arm for secure, easy handling. I had two 153/Wh brick batteries and a charger, plus a brick belt-pack adapter, and I used my Canon 100–400mm EOS and Tamron 10–24mm lenses. (Unfortunately, neither auto-exposure nor autofocus worked with the Tamron, but they did work with the Canon 100–400.)

For ENG-style shooters, it’s worth noting that the SCARLET-X and other RED cameras are very menu-driven with only a handful of external controls. However, the user interface is fairly user-friendly and should be familiar to RED users as well as DSLR shooters. With nary a glance at the over-270-page user manual, I began shooting in earnest after a half-hour phone tutorial with RED tech support. Key functions, like exposure, resolution, frame rate and shutter speed, are all at your fingertips via the camera’s two-stage menu, which can be activated by tapping directly on the VF or via the simple controls on the side handle.

My Miller Compass 25 tripod package (with its 30.9-pound maximum capacity) easily handled the 12–14-pound SCARLET-X package. It enabled me to pan very slowly and smoothly for exceptionally crisp imagery in 3K and 4K along with some useable shots in 5K at 12 fps. I also shot handheld at 24 fps using the RED arm — and I had to remind myself that I wasn’t on sticks. The SCARLET-X has enough mass for excellent stability with handheld shots, especially when firing with the side arm and grasping it with the RED arm while braced against a wall (this is much more comfortable than it sounds).

I also shot a variety of subjects outdoors at 60 fps at 2K resolution and was impressed at the clean, smooth, slow-motion effect of swimming and walking waterfowl when played back at 24 fps. The slow-mo shots of waterfowl, herons, fish eagles and muskrats that I shot at 1K HD resolution at 89 fps were even more impressive. Played back at 24 fps, much of their movements took on a dreamy slowness, most notably in the shots of my dog bounding after thrown sticks and such. Moreover, the 1K imagery looked HD sharp and easily intercut with the 2K shots.

I was also really impressed with the camera’s exposure latitude when using the HDR mode, even when shooting faces backlit in the midday sun. Tweaking exposure and color correction was also surprisingly easy and fast using a RED cine 3.2 lens, as was doing a cuts-only rough cut. I found it much faster and more satisfying than capturing a camera codec to Final Cut before color correcting. After hearing so much about the difficult RED workflow in its early days, I was blown away by how easy-breezy it was (once I mastered the basics) and how impressive and juicy the video was even at 2K and 1K, at least in good lighting situations. On the down side, the SCARLET-X isn’t as light-sensitive as one would hope. Its native ISO has been estimated as low as 5-600, which is plenty in daylight but marginal in low light. However, in those situations you can use HDR to boost detail in the darks.

In many respects, the SCARLET-X has exceeded my expectations by packing its 1K–5K capability at a better price point than most Pro 1080p cameras. Its modular design makes it feasible to scale it to your needs and budget. For those expecting the SCARLET-X to be an “almost-EPIC” camera, it will fall short in some key ways. But if changing frame rates isn’t quite as important as exposure, color latitude, crispness and an overall clean, great “film look” captured at 3K and 4K resolution, the SCARLET-X may well fulfill most if not all of your needs, provided that you light adequately.

For me, one issue was the SCARLET-X’s limited frame rates, particularly at higher resolutions with a max of 60 fps at 2K (versus a maximum of 120 fps at 4K with the RED EPIC). Nevertheless, the SCARLET-X is cut from much of the same cloth as the EPIC sensor-wise, and it could deliver 90 percent or more of what the EPIC does for a fraction of the cost. The SCARLET-X isn’t suited for ENG-style shooting, as it lacks basics like XLR inputs and a mic mount and has temperature-range restriction, but if you’re ready to take the plunge with a small-crew production — on a feature, reality show, documentary, music video or anything else — the RED SCARLET-X may be your best option to achieve cinema-screen resolution at ENG costs.


The “Wow” Factor of Adobe’s After Effects Templates

adobe_after_effects_cs6_iconI think we can all agree that Adobe After Effects CS6 is a powerful tool that skilled After Effects artists can wield like a magic wand. The problem is that it takes a while for us to develop these skills. What if there were shortcuts that would allow you to easily make expensive-looking animated logos without having to fully understand After Effects CS6? Actually, there is — they’re called After Effects Templates and some of them can be found on the Adobe Website.


Building the Panasonic AG-HPX250 Camera Rig

testdrive_hpx250-camera-rig-side300I’ve always loved my Panasonic AG-HVX200 cameras. They were money-makers that easily shot good-looking footage, allowing for a fast and economic workflow. These cameras quickly paid for themselves and never let me down in the five years that I owned them. So when Panasonic introduced its new AG-HPX250 camera, I bought one from AbleCine in New York. This was the third Panasonic camera that I’ve bought from AbleCine because they are an authorized dealer and the staff really knows their stuff. While you will see the AG-HPX250 model for less money on the Web, these “gray market” cameras don’t have the USA five-year warranty, so, unless you want to wait for your camera to return from Japan if something ever breaks, it’s well worth getting a solid camera from a solid dealer.


The GoPro HD HERO2 Camera

When my GoPro HD HERO2 camera first arrived, I was pretty excited. I had been watching the company improve their products for the last few years, and now I was going to have a chance to test their latest creation.

Just in case you’re not familiar with this product, GoPro cameras are tiny, stainless-steel boxes enclosed in a tough waterproof housing. They are wearable, gear-mountable, waterproof cameras capable of capturing professional full 170-degree, wide-angle, 1080p video and 11-megapixel photos at a rate of 10 photos per second. The HERO2’s main function is to serve as an inexpensive camera for shots that are too dangerous or in too tight of a spot for your main camera. For this reason, it’s very popular with professional athletes, sports filmmakers and anyone in need of some very cool-looking B-roll. The HD HERO2 Outdoor Edition model is the most advanced GoPro camera yet, and it comes with some very useful mounting accessories. Included are mounting accessories (that you’ll most likely use during outdoor sports, like biking, skiing, skating, or kayaking) and other accessories available via links on the GoPro Website.

I tested the GoPro HD HERO2 camera, which came with a waterproof housing that’s good to the depth of 197 feet. I tried it out in a swimming pool and instantly realized its potential for all kinds of projects. For fishing shows, it would be an inexpensive way to have a camera underwater. It would also allow for cool camera angles by shooting from underwater up at the actor. This could be a reverse shot of an actor looking at his reflection in the water or a Navy SEAL’s view of an enemy on a boat or dock. The cool thing is that the GoPro is so inexpensive that these extra shots take little time to set up — and cost you almost nothing. You can also fly the camera! A filmmaker friend attaches his GoPro camera to a toy helicopter to get quick establishing shots from the air. He claims that it’s faster than using a crane and, since the shot is only used for a few seconds, he’s able to cut in the footage to match his larger cameras.

Another accessory is the HD Skeleton Backdoor, which is used when mounting the camera to an automobile at speeds of less than 100 mph. While not waterproof, the slots on the camera’s back allow it to pick up a better audio signal. The Vented Helmet Strap and Head Strap are great ways to mount the GoPro on your forehead for hands-free shooting, like when climbing up a ladder or crawling across the floor. The two Curved-Surface Adhesive Mounts and two Flat-Surface Adhesive Mounts are great for easy mounting to handlebars or other surfaces, and the Three-Way Pivot Arm and Assorted Mounting Hardware complete the Outdoor Edition mounting kit.

A rechargeable Li-ion battery and USB cable are also included with the camera. The USB cable allows you to transfer data to your computer as well as charge your camera. The only thing not included is an SD card, so you may want to order one along with your GoPro. It can take SDHC memory cards up to 32GB, and they need to be at least class 4 (class 10 is needed for the Burst mode). You can expect four hours of 1080p30 or six hours of 720p30 on a 32GB card.

The camera’s new 2X Sharper Professional Glass Lens is an f/2.8 fixed focus, so there’s no need to worry about focusing while concentrating on the action. There’s a 90-degree narrow FOV available in the lower resolutions, a 127-degree medium FOV and a 170-degree, wide-angle in the 1080p mode. Since I normally shoot with a Sony FS100 camera, I prefer to use the1080p/1920×1080/30FPS preset on the GoPro. The other high-definition presets are 960p/1280×960/48FPS or 30FPS and 720p/1280×720/60FPS or 30FPS. The standard definition preset is WVGA/848×480/120FPS or 60FPS.

The GoPro’s high-performance CMOS image sensor is a little over a ½-inch wide with a light sensitivity of .84 V/lux-sec, which, along with the automatic white balance, seems to do a decent job in most lighting situations. I used it while indoors, outdoors and underwater, and I found it incredible that a $300 camera could get such great-looking footage. Most of you probably won’t be using this camera for still pictures — but if you do, here are the specs. You have your choice of 11MP, 8MP and 5MP resolutions at medium and wide 127/170-degree FOV. Amazingly, with a class 10 SD card, you can shoot a single 10-photo burst, a time-lapsed photo every .5 seconds, or even shoot yourself using the self-timer. The camera’s audio is actually better than you would expect. Although there’s a stereo external microphone input (3.5mm), audio is recorded as mono 48 kHz with AAC compression, using auto gain control. For B-roll types of sound, it’s fine.

How do you edit GoPro footage? The USB cable is included for charging and data transfer. The nice thing is that the battery can be charging while you transfer data. The HD HERO2 records an H.264 file in the .mp4 file format, which will work with Microsoft Windows Vista, 7 and later systems and Apple Mac OS X 10.5 and later systems. After shooting my tests, I loaded up the footage in Final Cut Pro X by selecting the Camera icon. FCP seemed to like the footage fine, but it seemed a little slow after adding a couple of effects. In Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, the files were right there in the Media Browser. And since I had set up the project and sequence to use a bigger codec, Red Giant Looks and Boris FX Final Effects Complete Light Rays, it looked great — and it was actually faster and more solid in CS6 than FCPX.

The GoPro HD HERO2 is just an amazing little camera. It’s also inexpensive, very usable and really fun to use.

MSRP: $300

Contact: www.gopro.com

My review system is a Mac Pro 2.93GHz, 12-core, 24GB RAM, running on Snow Leopard and Lion OSX. I use an ATTO R680 card in RAID 5 to control 16 Seagate SAS drives in two Ci Design cases. The NVIDIA Quadro 4000 card powers an EIZO ColorEdge CG243W and a 2s2 24-inch monitor, both of which are mounted on Monitors in Motion stands. Connected to a Blackmagic Design DeckLink HD card is a TVLogic LVM-170W monitor for video reference. Data backups are done on a G-SPEED Q RAID and Thermaltake BlacX Duet 5G. The Avid Artist Color panel is used to control various software, such as the DaVinci Resolve.

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