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Monday, 13 December 2010 19:56

DSLR Add-Ons Part 1

Written by  David Hurd
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TestDrive_IMG_0575The Canon 5D DSLR camera that also shoots great HD video is now available, and shooters are buying them up as fast as they are being made. I’ve found a variety useful DSLR add-ons that would also make great Christmas gifts –– and they’re all probably tax deductible.

MACRO LENS

The Raynox DCR-5320PRO macro/close-up lens works really well when you need to fill the frame with something small. It screws on the end of any 72mm lens and allows you to come within 6 inches of your subject. I tested this lens on the front of a Canon 100mm “L” Series lens, and the results were amazing. The macro was so tight that I could pan across the front of a business card and fill the whole frame. With the camera held at an angle, the near-field part of the card was in focus, with the far side of the card coming into focus as I panned.

With this lens, you can make big deals out of very small things. For documenting things up close, anything from skin damage to butterfly wings, it’s a great tool to have in your bag of tricks. And just imagine what you could do with an electric train set and a fog machine. Personally, I can’t wait to try it out on some music videos for a close-up on an eyeball or fingers on a fretboard.

LENSBABY

The new Composer lens from Lensbaby, which is based on a ball-and-socket configuration, allowed me to use selective focus on my subject. Simply tilt the lens and, using the manual focus ring, bring the part of the image that you want to see into sharp focus. The rest of the image will go soft, keeping your viewers attention on what you have in focus. I found that the Composer stays in the desired bent position without requiring a locking mechanism, so you can zoom or pan without problems and make changes quickly.

Another great thing about the Composer is that it is small and lightweight, making it the perfect choice when weight, portability and versatility are at a premium. The Fisheye Optic is part of the new Lensbaby Optic Swap System. This ultra-wide 12mm optic, with a 160-degree field of view, captures eye-popping fisheye views. The cool part is that it works from infinity all the way down to a half inch from the front of your lens. Overall, Lensbaby is just way cool, and it’s a great way to get unique-looking images.

SWIT S-1070C HDMI LCD MONITOR

When using a DSLR, it can be hard for you to manually focus while shooting video. As a result, a bigger monitor with a wide viewing angle is needed for checking focus and framing your shots. By connecting the SWIT Electronics S-1070C to your DSLR camera via HDMI, the 7-inch widescreen LCD will allow you to see what you’re shooting, thereby solving your focus problems. The HDMI cable delivers all of your camera’s information to the S-1070C, including real-time preview, camera menu, exposure value and playback.

Most DSLRs offer a built-in zoom preview feature for focusing, but this feature gets turned off when you start recording. This is when the S-1070C zoom-in function is really useful. Just press the F1 key and the image is enlarged about 2.5 times. This enlargement of your image helps you to see the focus detail clearly so you can manually adjust the focus point –– and it also helps when you need to check small details during playback. The SWIT S-1070C just makes sense: It’s cost effective and delivers everything that you need in a high-quality DSLR monitor.

BEACHTEK DXA-SLR MIXER

BeachTek’s DXA-SLR mixer gives you what you need to connect professional audio gear to your DSLR camera. It connects neatly under your camera and still allows you to use a tripod and most support systems. The DXA-SLR is so easy to set up and use: Just attach it to the bottom of your camera and plug the audio cables. You can input two XLR balanced audio signals at mic or line level with phantom power, and there’s an auxiliary mini-plug for your wireless mic or iPod.

The DXA-SLR allows you to capture clean audio on your DSLR, and it operates on only one 9-volt battery. The enhanced AGC-Disable feature dramatically reduces the noise during quiet moments of recording, allowing you to record two channels of clean audio. And to avoid clipping, the Good/Peak signal indicators show the ideal input levels at a glance, while the headphone output lets you monitor what you’re recording. When you’ve finished shooting, you can also monitor the playback audio from the camera to check what you’ve shot. I’ve found that the DXA-SLR makes the job of interfacing professional audio gear with your DSLR an easy task.

ZOOM H4N RECORDER

If you want the best audio possible, then the Zoom H4n digital recorder is a “must have” item. You can record two channels of pristine audio by putting the H4n on a boom pole and using the built-in mics or by plugging in your own microphones. I own a PSC AlphaMix and use the four direct outputs to record each mic onto its own audio track.

The H4n is easy to use and gets superb results. For downloading your sound files, you can plug it into your computer via USB or just put the data card into your card reader. In addition to DSLR recording, the H4n is so handy that I find new uses for it all the time. From recording ideas, songwriting and voiceovers to using it as a hidden mic on a shoot, the H4n is just a really useful piece of gear.

PLURALEYES

When using an H4n recorder, there’s another product that will make your life a lot easier. When you edit your footage, you’ll need to sync up the H4n audio to your video images. PluralEyes, from Singular software, will automatically compare the audio track from your camera and your H4n, synching them up automatically. Even if you have 10 cameras using different formats, PluralEyes gets the job done quickly and cleanly.

This program started out on FCP on Macs but is now available for PCs as well. And it now works with Adobe Premiere Pro, Sony Vegas and Avid Media Composer. I’ve been editing for a lot of years and I can sync up just about anything, but why bother? For very little money, PluralEyes effortlessly delivers perfect sync while you take a break.

ROLLING SHUTTER SOFTWARE

Sometimes fast movement will cause a “rolling shutter” effect in CMOS cameras, and it’s not pretty. Fortunately, the Foundry has come up with RollingShutter, a brand new plug-in tool for After Effects and NUKE.

Along with being ungainly and unwanted, these rolling-shutter image distortions also increase the difficulty of 3D tracking during VFX postproduction, as the tracking points themselves can be affected and deliver inaccurate results. RollingShutter lets you individually correct the parts of the image that are moving relative to the camera, even if they’re moving in different directions or at different speeds. This software could actually save your production, especially if it is heavy with FX.

LITEPANELS MICRO ON CAMERA LIGHT

The Litepanels Micro is a nice little on-camera light. It’s fully dimmable and runs at full brightness for 1.5 hours on just four alkaline AA batteries and up to 8 hours on lithium batteries. Power can be supplied optionally through a convenient 5- to 12-volt input jack located on the back of the unit.

The Micro is great for removing unflattering face shadows and adding an eye light. Light output is flicker free, heat free and is daylight color balanced, while the built-in filter holder allows you to pop in the included CTO gel to match tungsten lighting. The Micro also comes with a diffusion gel to soften the quality of the light output. It’s a heavyweight light in a small, lightweight package.

Since DSLRs are hard to hold steady, you’ll need some kind of mounting system, especially if you plan to use add-ons like a light, recorder or mic.

NORBERT

TestDrive_IMG_0568K-Tek’s versatile Norbert system has mounting options for both tripod and handheld use. At the core of Norbert is an 11¼x7-inch rectangular machined-aluminum “base” frame, with 23 standard hot shoe mounts (and many screw holes) for the easy attachment of accessories. With all of the mounting adapters that are available, Norbert provides nearly limitless flexibility for mounting accessories, limited only by what you can lift and carry around. I use it to mount a variety of production tools, including my SWIT monitor, Micro light, H4n audio recorder and the receiver for my Sennheiser wireless microphone.

The base frame includes a ¼ to 20 tripod screw mount with a quick-release plate. This quick-release makes camera battery changes fast and simple. To accommodate numerous camera types, including cameras with attached battery grips, an offset base plate is available. It mounts into the base with its own quick-release plate, and effectively moves the camera back from the frame.

Norbert is a cool add-on for any DSLR rig. It comes with two side handles, which can face up or down, depending on how you want to hold your rig for a particular shot. A rail system is also available for those of you with follow focus and matte boxes.

As you can see, the add-ons for your DSLR are as important as the camera itself when capturing and editing professional-level footage. And because there are currently so many great add-on options, I’ll continue with Part 2 of this review in the next issue of P3.

Raynox DCR-5320PRO Macro/Close-Up Lens                                                           MSRP: $293.95 Contact: www.raynox.com

Composer and Fisheye Optic from Lensbaby

MSRP: Composer $270, Fisheye Optic $149.95 Contact: www.lensbaby.com

SWIT S-1070C HDMI LCD Monitor

MSRP: $650 Contact: www.swit.us

BeachTek DXA-SLR Mixer

MSRP: $399 Contact: www.beachtek.com

Zoom H4n Recorder

MSRP: $299.99 Contact: www.samash.com

PluralEyes Software

MSRP: $149 Contact: www.singularsoftware.com

RollingShutter Software

MSRP: $500 Contact: www.thefoundry.co.uk

Litepanels Micro On-Camera Light

MSRP: $299 Contact: www.litepanels.com

K-Tek Norbert

MSRP: $425 Contact: www.ktekbooms.com/norbert

My review system consists of the Mac Pro dual quad core, 6GB RAM, NVIDIA FX4800 to EIZO 24-inch monitor, AJA KONA 3 to TVLogic 17-inch monitor, and Mackie 1402-VLZ mixer to Genelec 1029A audio monitors, all on Monitor in Motion stands. Also, an ATTO R380 SAS controller to 16 Seagate SAS drives in two Ci Design cases, a Logic keyboard, Wacom Intuos tablet and two APC UPS.

You can see many more reviews by David Hurd at www.dhpvideo.com.

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