Coming back soon

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m not the most consistent blogger in the world, in fact having not posted for nearly 10 months I’ll be amazed if anybody even see’s this post!

I feel like I should be apologising for this sheer mistreatment of my readers but alas it’s just the way I am when it comes to creativity, inspiration and expression. Over the last year music has once again become my main creative outlet and I tend to be quite monogamous when it comes to satisfying my creative needs and all of my other outlets tend to suffer somewhat.

With that said, I do plan to start posting more in the coming weeks as i have a lot to write about. Many things have changed kit wise over the last 10 months, the Canon C300 & C100 have been replaced by Sony cameras and all the accessory purchases and workflow changes I’ve been making will hopefully be of interest to others considering the same move.

As I’m also now operating my drones with all the paperwork in place I’ve been doing a few aerial projects as well, more on that soon but for now here’s a little snippet of a job I did a few weeks back.

Trying out the DJI Ronin-M

I recently had the opportunity to do some shooting with a DJI Ronin M stabiliser system and thought I’d share my experiences with the device. I don’t really want to call this a review as my time with the Ronin was quite limited due to work commitments so it’s more about initial thoughts.  I’ve owned and operated some small Steadicam units in the past and while I did get to grips with my Steadicam Pilot to a degree I barely used it due to the hassle involved with transporting it, setting it up and maintaining a sufficient skill level to get great results.

I received the Ronin-M just before leaving for  shoot for Harley-Davidson in Austria so decided to drop straight in to the deep and end try using it on the shoot without any practise. The only thing I did before packing for the trip was to unbox it and check I could mount my Canon C100.

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The nicely designed box seemed to want me to read the manual before proceeding, I’m afraid I didn’t oblige and opted to use my manly construction instincts instead!

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Once down to the next layer things look a lot more fun. If I’d actually read the manual I would have realised sooner than the big item on top was not actually part of the Ronin itself but rather a clever fold out stand.

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Looking at the remaining contents i couldn’t help being reminded of the Mechano set I opened on Christmas day when I was eight years old. The gimbal assembly itself actually folds down fairly flat which is much better for travelling than the huge case my steadicam required.

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Building the handle was straightforward, a centre handle is attached to the top of the gimbal and secured with a locking lever. Carbon rods then attach to each side of the centre handle and the whole thing can be positioned on the fold out stand.

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The supplied Li-Po battery attaches to the back of the gimbal and secures with two locking knobs. Much like DJI’s quadcopter batteries, the Li-Po on the Ronin-M is charged with a supplied charger and indicates current charge level when the power button is pressed.

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The Ronin-M is supplied with a mounting plate along with various bolts and a couple of allen keys. Fitting this to my C100 was easy and I was able to secure it with two bolts.

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With the camera mounted I finally gave in and referred to the manual for advice on how to balance the camera. Sliding the camera plate forward and backwards in the reciever adjusts the forward pitch balance and side to side tilting is balanced by sliding the receiver unit left and right on their rods. I found I had to remove the side handle from the C100 and lower the mounting bar fully in order to make the camera balance correctly.

There’s one further adjustment to make which moves the whole gimbal forwards and backwards in relation to the top handle, this is done with an adjuster wheel and locking clamp built in to the top of the gimbal unit. Getting everything to roughly balance only took a few minutes which is a world away from working with a steadicam, I remember spending days trying to balance my Steadicam and I’m still not sure I fully achieved it.

With the camera balanced I switched on the Ronin-M, I was half expecting it to start testing all the axis like my Inspire 1 does but none of that here, you just feel all the motors suddenly go tense and the device is ready to go.

With that I switched it off, packed it in to a peli case and flew out to Austria. I’m sure I should have gone through some kind of calibration and fine tuning process but it seemed to work well enough out of the box so I just left it all default.

I used the Ronin a few times whilst at the event and what impressed me the most was how easy it was to use. For the most part the gimbal tries to remove any unwanted movement you apply to the camera but if you do want it to pan or tilt it does a good job of recognising what you want to do and follows accordingly. I found the seemed to work slightly better for side to side panning than tilting up and down but I’m sure the sensitivity can be adjusted if desired.

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I opted to keep things really simple and used the screen on the back of the C100 to monitor the shots. I could have mounted an additional HDMI monitor to the top handle if using it more but for this job ease of setup was the key.

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One slight problem I did run in to was that the Ronin-M seemed to develop a droop to the right over time. When initially switched on the camera would be perfectly level but as I started to use it the level somehow seemed to drift off as can be seen in the shot below (0:38 in the video). I actually left that one in the edit as I liked it anyway.

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I fired up the DJI assistant app on my iPhone which allows adjustments to be made to the Ronin vie Bluetooth and found that I could bring the camera level again but it still continued to drift off again once levelled.

I found that lifting the Ronin-M could produce fairly convincing jib type shots, one example is the shot where I was standing in the audience below (1:00 in the video).

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If I’d had more time with the Ronin I would have looked in to this issue further but I highly suspect it’s due to me not doing any form of calibration. If you’re familiar with the Ronin then please feel free to leave a comment and tell me what I missed.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with the Ronin-M. Unlike the Steadicam I’ve used in the past it’s very portable and easy to setup on location. Much like a Steadicam it can be a bit of a hassle putting the thing down as it really needs to be placed on it’s stand when not being held.

If I buy one I may even have a go at using it on a Harley instead of doing my reverse shots like this!

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I’ve highlighted the Ronin-M shots in the video below to give some examples of where I used it. I’m sure it would have been perfect for that closing shot of the harley’s pulling away down the road as well but that was actually me holding my Phantom 3 out of a car’s sunroof!

Pricing wise I think the Ronin-M offers good value. If buying in the US the I’d highly recommend buying from B&H, they currently retail the Ronin at $1,399. Click here to find out more.

For other countries where shipping costs increase it may be cheaper to buy direct from DJI.

Here’s the video…

 

As always, any questions or comments are welcomed.

Paul

 

 

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Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art lens for video

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For a few years now I’ve been using the Canon EF-S 17-55 f2.8 as a general walk around lens when shooting events with my C300. Over that time I’ve become quite frustrated with it, mainly due to it’s nasty plastic construction and the way the horrible rear mounted focus ring feels in use. Lets also not forget the fact that it can cause vignetting when used with the C300.

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8

Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8

Most of my other Canon lenses are L series which tend to have a better build quality and feel much nicer to use. When I purchased the 17-55 the only real alternative from Canon was the 16-35 f/2.8 but when I tested that lens against the 17-55 the image stabilisation in the 17-55 won me over and I opted to live with the horrible feel for the advantages the IS provides.

During  the next couple of years I was generally happy with the images produced by 17-55 but I never really got past the nasty feel of the lens, it also has a habit of sucking dust inside the barrel which can be annoying. Earlier this year something broke inside the lens during a shoot causing the zoom mechanism to get stuck, the 17-55 found it’s way unceremoniously thrown in to my spare parts box!

Over the next few event shoots I swapped between the Tokina 11-16 and Canon 24-105 but I missed the flexibility of having a fast mid zoom so eventually decided to look for a replacement. I visited the Wex Store in Norwich with my C300 to try out the Canon EF16-35 f/2.8 II and also have a look at the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art series lens which I’d been hearing good things about online.

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Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L II

I tried the Canon 16-35 first. At £1064 it’s not a cheap lens but I’ve learned the hard way that it’s sometimes better to swallow the cost in favour of reliability and performance. The 16-35 II felt very familiar, the zoom and focus rings have the same loose but solid feel as my other L series lenses. I tested the dual pixel autofocusing on the C300 and the 16-35 responded extremely quickly. I didn’t feel I needed to worry about image quality from a lens of this standing, i was more concerned about feel and operational performance.

Next up I asked to try the Sigma 18-35 Art Series lens. At £610 it’s a lot cheaper than the Canon 16-35 but unlike the Canon it’s not a full frame lens. Much like the Canon EF-S range the Sigma is designed to work with APS-C cameras like the 7D but at f/1.8 throughout it’s entire zoom range the Sigma is faster.

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Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art Series

As soon as the sales assistant passed me the lens I was surprised at how heavy and solid it felt, it had a cold metal feeling that reminded me of holding my old Nikkor lenses.  Once fitted to the C300 I was immediately struck by the feel and responsiveness of the zoom and focus rings, they have a heavy yet extremely smooth travel which responds more like a cine style lens than a stills lens. Unlike the Canon L series lenses it’s really easy to perform a smooth zoom on this lens if required as well.

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Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art Series

I’d read reports that the Sigma lens would only work with the dual pixel autofocusing feature on the C300 with it’s fully open at f/1.8 but that wasn’t the case and the lens focused successfully throughout the aperture range. The focus speed was slower than the Canon lens however I found that to be an advantage as a slower focussing looks more pleasing if used within a shot than a snap focus.

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Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 Art Series

I found that both pulling focus and running the zoom on the sigma produced extremely fluid results that far exceed what I could produce with my Canon glass. Just to be sure I fitted the Canon 16-35 again and in comparison it actually felt clunky and nowhere near as nice to use. I was sold and purchased the Sigma there and then!

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Sigma 18-35 f/1.8 fitted to Canon C300

Two days after purchasing the Sigma I filmed an event for Harley-Davidson and the Sigma performed flawlessly. It’s a great walk around lens for the C300 and having the option to shoot at f/1.8 makes it great for low light shots and shallow depth of field work during the day.

I haven’t found any negatives to report so far. I do miss the image stabiliser from the 17-55 a little so it would be great to see Sigma add IS to the mix in the future.

I used the Sigma for most of the shots shown in the video below and would highly recommend it for video use. In fact, I’m now keen to replace some of my other Canon L zooms as well!

Buy the Sigma 18-35 at B&H

New X5 Inspire 1 Cameras from DJI

DJI have been pushing out so many new products lately it’s getting hard to keep track! One of the most interesting for Inspire 1 pilots is this new Zenmuse X5 camera.

The new X5 camera features a micro 4/3 sensor and much like the existing X3 camera on the Inspire 1 comes complete with an integrated 3-axis gimbal.

 

 

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Two versions of the X5 camera have been announced. The standard X5 retains most of the recording specifications of the existing X3 camera but the larger M4/3 sensor which improves stills resolution to 16 MP and has a reported dynamic range increase to 12.8 stops. As with the smaller X3, the X5 records to Micro SD cards and retains similar bitrates which max out at 60 Mbps for 4K (UHD) recording and less for 1080 (HD) recording.

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DJI makes the X5 available either without a lens or with it’s new 15mm f/1.7 Prime. As shown in the image below DJI also recommend two other lenses in the form of the Olympus 12mm f/2.0 and the Panasonic Lumix 15mm f/1.7. Whilst other M4/3 lenses will likely work with the X5 DJI has based these recommendations on weight and balance for the integrated gimbal.

Click here for the latest pricing on the X5 Camera

X5 lenses

The second variant of the X5 camera is the X5R. The R version uses the same gimbal and sensor but the camera uses a different design which removes the recording block from the camera body. The X5R adds the ability to record lossless 4K RAW CinemaDNG files to an SSD drive. Whilst the recording resolutions and frame rates remain the same as the standard X5, it’s capable of recording at bitrates up to 2.4Gbps which is a huge leap from the standard version.

Click here for the latest pricing on the X5R Camera

 

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So what are the advantages of this new camera over the standard X3 camera? Without testing the camera myself it’s hard to judge how the two compare but in theory the much larger Micro 4/3 sensor should provide a lot more exposure and focusing flexibility than the little X3 camera. The ability to set lens aperture and focal distance from the ‘Go’ app running on the remote means that more creative control can be achieved. Being able to set depth of field and finding correct exposure becomes less about shutter speed manipulation and more about the balance between ISO, aperture and ND filtering as it is with most full size cameras. Here’s a graphic that shows just how much bigger a Micro 4/3 sensor is compared to the one in the X3 camera.

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Early demos and footage releases have revealed that the X5 is certainly capable of improved dynamic range and certainly for stills use it should prove to be a lot more capable than the X3. With video however I’d estimate that it’s likely to be more about gaining control of the image and using that control to achieve the best results from each location. Having proper lenses and aperture control also brings with it a much greater risk of getting bad results so to make the best of the X5 a greater knowledge of shooting will be required than with the little X3 which is very forgiving indeed.

Both of the new X5 cameras require an upgraded vibration absorbing board to be fitted to the Inspire 1 to enable them to be attached. The new mount pushes the dampers further out sideways to provide better lateral support for the camera.

Find out more about the X5 Vibration board here

X5 mountBecause the X5 cameras hang lower than the X3 the Inspire 1 needs to have it’s feet extended to stop the camera hitting the ground. Stick on feet extenders are included with both cameras.

DJI have also announced released a version of the Inspire 1 which can be purchased with an X5 already mounted. Names the Inspire 1 Pro, this new version comes with the new vibrations board and feet extensions as well as a newly developed quick release prop mounting system which as yet is unavailable for existing Inspire 1 Owners.

Inspire 1 Pro

Click here to find out more about the Inspire 1 Pro 

 

Also announced is a new wireless follow focus device called the ‘DJI FOCUS‘.  Allowing focus to be controlled remotely by a dedicated focus puller.

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As well as working with the X5 camera this new device can also be used with other lens systems both air and ground based and is supplied with various data interconnect cables, the remote focus motor, lens gears and removable marking rings.

Find out more about the DJI Focus here.

 

 

 

 

 

10 things that could save your drone

10 things that could save your drone

Click here for a German translation of this post.

If you’re interested in drones you will have no doubt seen all the spectacular crashes on YouTube and heard about drones flying away by themselves. Drones like the DJI Inspire 1 or Phantom 3 are highly complex devices that rely on various systems to perform properly. While there’s no way to guarantee against a hardware or software problem there are a few things you can do to minimise the chances of crashing. Here are my top tips that could save your DJI drone.

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1. Know when and when NOT to calibrate the compass

A lot of people recommend calibrating the drones compass each time it’s flown at a different location. While this seems to work for some I think it introduces unnecessary risk. Let me explain why…

When you perform a compass calibration you’re letting your drone test its surroundings for magnetic force and once the calibration is complete it stores that data and assumes that those forces are normal for the current location and will be consistent throughout the flight. But what if there’s a large electrical cable or metal pipework buried below the paving you’re standing on? If that were the case then the calibration you’ve just performed will have taken those effects into account and the moment the drone takes off it will be flying with incorrect compass data.

Unless you’ve travelled a long way (hundreds of miles) since your last flight there’s no real need to re-calibrate the compass if you already have a good calibration locked in. If you find yourself in a nice open undeveloped area then it’s a good time to grab a clean compass calibration, otherwise why replace a clean calibration with one from an area where you have no idea what unknown forces are at play.

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