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Test Drive

Band-in-a-Box 2013 for Windows

bandbox2013Have you ever wanted to create your own soundtrack, but didn’t have any musical instruments or players available? If you have any basic musician skills, PG Music’s Band-in-a-Box software may be just what you need. Musically speaking, Band-in-a-Box can do some amazing things — simply tell it who is in the band and what chords to play and it will figure out the rest.

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The Foton Light from PRG

prg-foton-600x509Over the years I’ve seen and used a lot of different lights when filming, but the TruColor Series Foton light from PRG is special — it has no bulb and is tungsten color-accurate as well as lightweight and waterproof. This is truly the next generation of digital lighting. In place of a bulb, the Foton uses a direct-drive array, which means that you’ll get no flicker at any frame rate. It’s been optimized for film, video and still photography and, with its high-quality color rendering and a cri>95, you won’t find any weird color shifts when you post your footage. Basically, what you see is what you get.

A lot has been written lately about how LED lights all have a discontinuous spectrum, which leaves out some wavelengths of light. A shoot with LEDs will look good on your monitor but turn out to be problematic with color-shifts that can’t be fixed in post — and this issue can lead to missed deadlines and re-shoots. The Foton light is a great replacement for LED lights, as it virtually eliminates the challenges faced when lighting with LEDs. The Foton’s completely natural-looking light is generated using remote phosphor technology, requiring no color correction while correlating perfectly with professional light and color meters. In my lighting tests, the both the color and light control were great. The Foton uses Variable beam angle, quick-connect reflectors for creating light-beam angles from 10 to 120 degrees. To change a reflector, you just pop off the front part of the fixture by giving it a twist, pop off the retaining clip, and then switch out the reflector. And since the fixture runs really cool, heat isn’t a problem.

The Foton light’s built-in dimmer works very well, dimming smoothly from 0 to 100 percent with no color shift. The dimmer, along with the reflectors, barn doors and gel frame, allow you to tightly control this light. The Foton is environmentally green, producing a 1,000 lumen output that uses less than 30 watts of power. It’s also very quiet with passive cooling instead of fans so there’s no noise, which is really great when shooting scenes with quiet dialogue. The Foton is available in AC and DC versions, which means that you can use it anywhere, and it’s waterproof, so it can get wet without shorting out.

Discovering new technology is always cool, especially when it solves problems. The Foton light is a great problem-solver that costs under $1,000, and, with an estimated life of 50,000 hours, no bulbs to replace, and the cost savings achieved by avoiding re-shoots, it’s well worth it.

David Hurd operates David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Fla. More of his reviews are available at www.dhpvideo.com.

www.prg.com/product/foton-2-2-2/

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The CrumplePop Fisheye Fixer for GoPro Plug-in

 

2612642_300Ever since I got a GoPro HERO2 camera, I’ve been finding all sorts of great uses for it, such as underwater shoots, music videos, POV shots, and attaching it to a bike or car for traveling shots.

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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.

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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.

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