Monday, 12 December 2016

Microphone Wind-Noise Muff for Sony Camcorder FDR-AX33

In May 2013 I wrote about using a Micromuff over the microphones of a Sony camcorder and what a great success it was. However, when I received my then new Sony FDR-AX33 I discovered that the grill covering the microphones was larger than the largest available from Micromuff. I decided to make my own using Velcro or Velcro lookalike and fake fur. The first one I made worked as expected but I had great difficulty in getting the fake Velcro to stick to the camcorder. Eventually I used double-sided tape but even that in the heat of the tropics gave up the ghost. So rather than repeat the exercise with the same material I looked for something stronger and seem to have found the answer.

This time I used Velcro Heavy Duty Stick On 50 mm wide and in a length of 1 metre (from Amazon). I then cut the hook part (to attach to the camcorder) using the template below, with the longer side parallel with the length of the roll (so that the natural curve of the material matched the curve of the camcorder). I then degreased the camcorder surface using an isopropanol contact cleaner (Maplin) and attached the Velcro. I left it undisturbed for 24 hours as instructed.

I then cut out the loop piece. Last time I made the hook and loop sides the same size but this meant I could not hold the hook side when removing the muff. Now I can apply a finger to hold the hook side down while I carefully pull off the muff in places I do not need to use it. I then stuck the loop piece to the back of a piece of fake wolf fur of the same size and left that to stand for 24 hours.

So far, so good. The adhesive on the Velcro really does seem to do what it says on the packet but the real test will come when I try this version in the tropics.

The only slight difficulty I faced was cutting out the two centres because the Velcro material is tough. Eventually I used an old craft knife with a short chisel-shaped blade (An X-Acto No 5 handle with No 18 blade is the modern equivalent). A wood chisel and a sharp tap with a mallet may have been an easier option.

The fake fur came from eBay. Search for ‘faux fur fabric material’. The piece I have is ‘blue beige wolf’.

Templates used for the Velcro
Not To Scale
The hook side stuck to the camcorder
The loop side with the fake fur added
Materials used

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Final Cut Pro X with Lightroom. Yes, you could but NOW with 10.3 you can't

On 11 June, I posted the method I have been using to import photographs directly from Lightroom into Final Cut Pro X. But with the upgrade to FCPX 10.3 that cannot be done. I can find no way to add a folder of jpgs to the Photos and Audio Sidebar. From Apple Photos yes, Aperture yes but nothing non-Apple. I have asked on the Apple FCPX forum if anybody has worked out how to do it but the query has received no replies.

I am again stuck with going through the import process from, say, that Published Smart Folder created from Lightroom.

Will there be sufficient noise from users for Apple to realise what functionality they have removed?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Infrared Video in Daylight using Sony Night Shot

Sony’s infrared NIGHT SHOT setting on their camcorders is useful for nocturnal wildlife forays, both for the wildlife itself when a visible light source cannot be used and for videoing cutaways of the watchers and drivers in the pitch dark. It is said to operate by moving the filter from the sensor thereby allowing near infrared and infrared wavelengths to be recorded. I wondered if it would be possible to use Night Shot in daylight to turn the camcorder (AX33) into an infrared camera by putting suitable cutoff filters over the lens.

Unfortunately, life is not that simple. Even with an 850 nm IR filter, there was massive overexposure on the Auto setting—the only setting permitted since in Night Shot mode manual exposure adjustment is blocked. So I started stacking neutral density filters over the 850 filter. Eventually with an ND8 plus ND4 (i.e. 5 stops) I could get a reasonably exposed image even in bright sunlight. I return to this set up below.

I also tried a 720 nm filter to see if I could generate faux colour infrared footage. Using the technique in Final Cut Pro X I have used with my 720 nm infrared-modified Nikon D7100, I could get a weak blue in the sky but nothing really worthwhile.

In trying to find out whether or not anybody had attempted to use Night Shot by day I came across a small Flickr group. Members of that have used a 2003 model Sony still camera (DSC-V1) which has Night Shot. Again an IR filter plus ND filters were the answer.

The original footage has the usual weak green hue. I did a simple black-and-white conversion. Noise, always a problem with infrared photography using cameras with small sensors, was evident. Therefore, I used Neat Video for noise reduction but there is a downside in that rendering times are increased markedly—very markedly.

To try the set-up out I tried a few hand-held shots in the village. You will see from the footage that at the shorter focal lengths there was peripheral unsharpness. I do not know the cause. At longer focal lengths, however, that fuzziness disappeared.

While not as convenient or versatile as a modern infrared-converted DSLR, the use of Night Shot does provide owners of Sony camcorders with the capability of taking infrared footage with the simple addition of cheap filters. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Photographic magazine sales in 2015

Sales of photographic magazines in UK continue to fall. I last reported here the circulation figures for photographic magazines in 2013. Sales for all fell. That downward trend has continued and again in 2015 the circulation of all photographic magazines audited by ABC in UK decreased.

I know that the number of titles stocked by our local W.H. Smith has also fallen. I haven’t been able to find Advanced Photographer (not audited ABC) for months. The professional photographic journalists who edit and write the magazines must continue to be very worried. For example, Amateur Photographer sales have fallen by 19% in two years. They are only 14% of what they were 30 years ago, such has been the decline.

Magazine sales suffer is because much better information is available on online even though the excellent stuff has to be distinguished from a lot of utter rubbish. The problem with UK photographic magazines is that they are neither fish nor fowl; too elementary for those with any experience but too modern for those ill at ease and left behind by the digital world.

Here are the ABC figures for 2015 showing the year-on-year percentage changes:

Title% Change
Digital SLR Photography-24.7
Amateur Photographer-11.9
Digital Photo-10.2
Photo Plus-6.2
Digital Camera Magazine-1.6
Practical Photography-1.4

Monday, 13 June 2016

"Zoo Quest" in colour. Why colour for black-and-white television?

Those who saw the recent BBC programme after the discovery that the original footage of "Zoo Quest" from the 1950s was filmed in colour will have been amazed by its quality and by the skill of Charles Lagus, the cinematographer. Nearly twenty years before the appearance of colour television in U.K. the technical people at the BBC insisted on the use of colour negative film rather than black-and-white film for the clockwork-driven 16 mm camera. Sir David Attenborough explained that the BBC only agreed to 16 mm, necessary for portability in the field, after a huge row. 16 mm was for amateurs: professionals used 35 mm. The reason why Charles Lagus was chosen was because he had experience of using 16 mm equipment (technical films which would be projected for relatively small audiences were filmed in 16 mm because the equipment and film was much cheaper).

What was not explained in the programme was the reason why colour negative film was insisted upon. I can only assume that it was less grainy than the black and white negative stock available at the time with the silver grains having been washed out during processing to leave the dyes. If that were the case then colour positive stock would have been the alternative. However, the exposure latitude of colour negative was, and still is, much greater than colour positive film. That would have been an asset in the field where it would be difficult to get the exact exposure that postive film demands.

It would appear that only black-and-white prints were taken from the original footage since neither the presenter nor the cinematographer could remember that it had ever been in colour. In what form it was televised I do not know but printing from a colour negative with relatively wide latitude would have enabled contrast to have been controlled at the printing stage and the use of slow, fine-grain black-and-white material.

The advantage in terms of quality of output of using colour negative film stock would have been offset by their lack of speed. Colour films were then incredibly slow by modern standards (about 10-20 ASA). Indeed there were situations, when the Komodo Dragon was lured into a trap, for example, when a faster black-and-white film had to be used just to get a shot. The quality was noticeably lower.

You can also see from the footage another advantage of using 16 mm rather than 35 mm film for wildlife—the greater depth of field.

I have not been able to find what colour negative film Charles Lagus was told to use. The BJP Almanacs for the early 1950s list only 16 mm positive films. However, I have read that the BBC worked with Kodak in the 1950s and 60s to bring 16 mm cinematography to a professional level (i.e. to replace 35 mm for television use) so my guess is the film was Kodak but which one I have not been able to work out.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Final Cut Pro X with Lightroom. Yes you can

One valuable feature of Final Cut Pro X is the ability to import photographs directly from Apple’s own Aperture and Photos via the Photos Browser. When I moved to Adobe Lightroom, in anticipation of the demise of Aperture and faced with the pretty useless Photos, I missed that feature. I thought there was no way of getting photographs from Lightroom into Final Cut Pro X other than by exporting them and then importing them into FCPX directly or via Photos. I was wrong.

The Published Smart Folder created in Lightroom
I found a workaround that had been published on an internet forum in September 2015. In Lightroom it involves creating a Publish Service to any local drive. I first created a folder called LR for FCP (to remind me what it contains) in the Pictures folder. I then used Lightroom to create its own ‘Published Smart Folder’ within that folder. I set up the latter folder to contain anything Flagged in Lightroom. I only used ‘Flag’ as as example for automatically including photographs in the Smart Folder—all the other smart folder options (star rating, colour label, keywords) can be used.

The contents of the smart folder are held there until you right click and press ‘Publish Now’. The queued photographs are exported to Published Smart Folder.

The Published Smart Folder open in FCPX
That folder is now dragged into the Photos Browser of FCPX and there are the photographs ready to drag onto the Timeline.

Provided you have FCPX set up to ‘Copy to library storage location’, the photographs can be deleted from the Published Smart Folder and those in its smart folder in Lightroom can be unFlagged and removed (the original photos are left in place of course).

I think I now prefer this method to using Aperture or Photos since I do not need have to wade through all their folders and photographs In the Photos Browser in FCPX to find what I want.

This method also works with Motion and I found another advantage. Layered graphics in psd format (such as the ones I use for moving maps) can be saved directly from Photoshop to the Published Smart Folder. They can then be dragged to the Canvas in Motion with the option for them to appear as separate layers (in FCPX the layers can be separated in the Timeline).

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Aperture to Lightroom in 2015; now it’s to Lightroom CC/Lightroom Mobile and Photoshop CC

The last full-fat version of Photoshop I used was CS, introduced in 2003. As later editions of Photoshop Elements included more features that I needed than CS I changed to that much cheaper product. In recent years with Aperture and then, instead, Lightroom, I have done very little that could not be done with Aperture or, now, Lightroom (with Nik and other plug-ins), with the occasional use of Photoshop Elements with the plug-in Element+. However, with infrared work I have been worried that the restriction to 8-bit processing was putting jagged gaps in the histogram when Levels were used to tone the pretty flat images that emerge from an IR-converted camera. Secondly, although possible, developing Actions with the help of Elements+ is a hassle compared with Photoshop proper. Because of the 8-bit problem and because I often want to experiment with different colour temperatures before conversion of faux-colour IR images using the channel mixer (or the hue slider in Viveza 2) and, therefore, generate a number of variants as quickly and as automatically as possible, I took the plunge back into the full-version Photoshop world, even though I dislike the software subscription business model. So now I have Lightroom CC (which apart from the import from files bit I like greatly) and Photoshop CC, with Nik Software plugins.

Photoshop CC is, to my delight, brilliant and so much easier to use than the early versions, including CS. The modern algorithms are so good that I have reprocessed some difficult, images scanned from positives, negatives and prints with considerably more success. I have been helped with modern Photoshop by internet tutorials and Martin Evening’s book (a hard copy is much easier to look things up in than a Kindle version).

Having now used Lightroom 6/CC and Photoshop CC, I can see why Apple dropped Aperture. The intellectual and capital investment needed just to keep up (and to work round any problems with intellectual property) must have been so daunting that it was just not worth Apple’s while.

Also, Lightroom Mobile works extremely well, at least to show photographs on an iPad or iPhone (the only way I would want to use it).

The most annoying problem with using Lightroom compared with Aperture, as I have remarked before, is in not being able to import photographs directly from there into Final Cut Pro X. However, I have read of a workaround which I am about to test……..

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Infrared 'faux colour' video from an IR-converted (590 nm) DSLR and Final Cut Pro X

I do not have a video camera that has been converted for infrared with a 590 nm ('goldie') filter. I do though have a Nikon D80 so converted and could investigate the effect of channel swapping in Final Cut Pro X and the plugins described in my previous post using still photographs on the video timeline.

As you can see, as with my 720 nm-converted Nikon D7100, the process works very well, again proving just as easy, if not easier, than using the various methods available for still images only.

The Nikon D80 produces a noiser image than the D7100, so I also used the Neat Video noise reduction plugin for FCP X. The latter is excellent although rendering is very slow indeed.

Still image from 590 nm-infrared converted Nikon D80 processed in Final Cut Pro X as described in previous post. No noise reduction applied
As above with noise reduction (Neat Video) applied

I am not just planning to use the Nikon D80 with the 590 nm filter conversion for still photographs dropped into a video. Being able to produce the 'faux' colour effects in Final Cut Pro X means that I can take time lapse sequences and after making simple corrections, like dealing with dust spots, on all the images in Lightroom, and compiling the sequence into a video, I can do all colour channel swapping and colour grading in FCP X.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Infrared 'faux colour' video from an IR-converted (720 nm) DSLR and Final Cut Pro X

Shortly after my new-to-me infrared-converted (720 nm filter) Nikon D7100 arrived the week before last, I realised that I could try to make 'faux colour' infrared full hd videos. However, I had no idea whether with the software available I could process the footage. A day or two later a spell of wall to wall sunshine arrived and so I wandered down to the Auld Brig o'Doon and stuck my camera over the wall just to get some footage to import in Final Cut Pro X. In the interests of health and safety I did stand well away from the carriageway just in case a drunk came by on a horse pursued by witches who gather at intervals at Alloway's Auld Kirk.

Safely back home, I imported the footage into FCPX and found that converting the footage was actually easier than doing the same job with still photographs using the widely-known techniques and which I have written about at length in previous posts.

I have had installed for some time the excellent and free colour effects plugins produced by Alex Gollner (Alex4d). Included in that bundle is Channel Mixer a4d and with that plugin the red and blue channels can be reversed to produce the blue sky effect. Very soon I had worked out a protocol that worked best for me, with the proviso, of course, that other settings and effects could be applied to produced a whole range of 'looks' in the final output.

To explain what I have been up to I have made a short video which explains the steps in Final Cut Pro X:

I shall not repeat the procedure here but there are a couple of things to point out. Whoever converted the camera for the previous owner managed to set a custom white balance. The raw footage has that white balance applied. Others have found it extremely difficult to set a custom white balance in an infrared-converted D7100, and I have not yet found a way. The 'Balance Colour' first step of the conversion process is, therefore, on footage being taken with the custom white balance. Without a custom white balance, (i.e. white balance on 'auto' on the camera) I cannot get reasonable colour using the Channel Mixer; in these circumastances 'Balance Colour' does a reasonable job to bring the white balance back in line but not quite a good enough one. Therefore, a custom white balance set as advised for the particular IR filter on the sensor would appear to be essential.

I should also point out that my experience is confined to infrared-converted cameras, and does not extend to those uncoverted cameras with an infrared filter attached to the lens.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Fisheye Lens for Suitable for Infrared Photography: Kelda 6.5 mm f/3.5

From ePhotozine
I have been looking for a fisheye lens for infrared photography. I found it difficult to find out which fisheye lenses, if any, show a ‘hotspot, and I was reluctant to buy a second-hand Nikon or one of the still relatively expensive ones from the second-line manufacturers.

A couple of weeks ago I saw in ePhotozine that Kauser International were offering a Kelda 6.5 mm f/3.5 fisheye for APS-sized DSLR sensors for £129. Now, I am usually very wary of buying a cheap lens. The reviews of most reveal poor optical performance. However, the earlier review in ePhotozine of this lens showed it to be remarkably good at f/8 and f/5.6. I then found that this lens is or has been sold by a number of companies, some in slightly different configurations, starting, it seems with Samyang and described either as 6.5 or 8 mm focal length. Although Samyang appear to make their lenses in Korea, the Kelda is described as made in China. 

I ordered one (with a Nikon mount) on the grounds that if it proved not to be suitable for infrared, then I had lost very little. It arrived from Kauser virtually by return. It looks like the early model Samyang. The fact that it is manual focus with a manual aperture ring is no hardship. I was impressed by the build quality: a solid feel, smooth focusing ring and half-stop clicked aperture ring. The supplied plastic front lens cap has a faux spatter-coated sheet metal look. On this model the petal lens hood seems to be fixed (well, I can find no way to remove it and the plastic flange extends below the front element of the lens) even though the box states that it is removable.

The first test was my usual shot out of the window lens test. The weather has been so foul and so dull that a meaningful test was out of the question. However, at first glance I could see no sign of a dreaded hotspot. Yesterday, however, the weather was fine, and on the way back from the post office I stuck the lens (attached to my 590 nm infrared converted Nikon D80) into the Auld Kirk to check that it really was suitable for infrared. As you can see from the following Lightroom, Photoshop and Viveza-processed shots, there was no sign of a hotspot.

Reviewers of this lens in it various guises have commented, hardly surprisingly, on the flare when shooting against the light. With this lens’s coverage of 180° on the diagonal of the sensor, it is hard to avoid getting the sun (or one’s own shadow) in the frame. Reviewers have also marked the lens down for its lack of a depth-of-field scale. With the enormous depth of field of this lens (whether it is nominally 6.5 or 8 mm focal length), that absence, together with the absence of an infrared focus mark, is completely irrelevant. At f/8, the hyperfocal distance is about 30 cm which means that when focused at that mark, everything is in focus from the end of a six inch rule to infinity.

The Samyang fisheye lens family to which this version clearly belongs is noted for the stereographic projection of the image. The advantages of this projection over others are shown here.

In conclusion, I have a fisheye lens that works for infrared with an optical performance (ePhotozine used Imatest) that hits excellent between f/5.6 and f/11 with minimal chromatic aberration at f/11. I would rate this lens at the price I paid as a bargain. So far, so very good.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Samsung withdraw from the camera market. Why I am not surprised

The withdrawal of Samsung from the camera and camcorder market is sad news for those who invested in the brand. Only recently were Samsung cameras being pushed by some magazines and the overall marketing was intense. I presume the company had not achieved the share of the market it had planned.

I was never remotely tempted to buy a Samsung camera, the reason being that I have never been satisfied with anything Samsung I have bought. The software for a pre-Android telephone was appalling and the interface the cause of much frustration. Worse was to follow: a 'smart' (i.e. thick as two short planks) television with video recorder/DVD BluRay player. The latter has the worst user interface I have ever known in any electronic device, needing multiple clicks and arrow shifts just to play back a recorded television programme; it is not very reliable and sends inane messages to the television screen when in operation. I loathe that machine. I have a non-Samsung brand large hard drive which registers as a Samsung drive on the Mac; it is the noisiest drive I have ever encountered. So, you do get the message that as far as I am concerned the Samsung brand is contaminated.

More generally, large manufacturers with different divisions must live in fear and dread of a dud product contaminating the brand. For much of the 1970s and 80s I used to go to a conference in New Hampshire. It was held in one of the liberal arts colleges that American parents waste their money on. Initially, the food was good, very good, in fact, if you can stand piling all the sweet and savoury items on one plate. In later years the food deteriorated. The catering had been contracted out to a major American hotel chain. 'I would never stay at one of their hotels', said a student who was working there for the summer. The premium brand was contaminated by the poor performance of one division which probably had nothing to do with the outside catering business. The heads of Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic must tremble as new products are launched because a number are simply not best in their class. A manufacturer once told me that if they produced anything it had to be the best or second-best of its class in the world and, he added, certain of achieving a 40% margin! And no it wasn't Apple.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Sony FDR-AX33 Camcorder: Zoom Range and Steady-Shot

I ended my last post by saying I was puzzled by the zoom range of the AX33 and the effect of using Active Steady-Shot (Balanced Optical SteadyShot, BOSS). This is a snippet from the manual:

And that is all it says. I wondered if this affected both ends of the zoom range. While you might expect zoom magnification to be noticeable at the long focal length end of the range, is there also an effect at the short (wide angle) end?

The additional apparent focal length is very welcome indeed for wildlife. Sony’s 10x zoom range has been extremely limiting in the past and I have carried a 1.7x extender for previous models.

I have extracted some stills to show the effect of the three Steady-Shot settings: Active, Standard and Off at both ends of the zoom range. I used a Full HD setting, rather than 4K since the effect is more pronounced.

Zoom at it longest focal length with
different SteadyShot settings
Zoom at its shortest focal length with
different SteadyShot settings. The angle
of view is slightly narrower with Active; the
window frame is included to show the effect
more clearly
As you can see there is a huge effect at full zoom between Active and Standard or Off. There is an effect at wide-angle but it is not so pronounced. However, it is worth noting that if you seek to gain the longest apparent focal length then set Steady-Shot to Active. On the other hand if you want the widest angle shot possible, set SteadyShot to Standard or Off, depending on how the camera is held.

What Sony does not mention is whether there is any effect on video quality of using Active Steady-Shot to get a longer effective focal length. I have seen it said that there is a very small effect which is hardly noticeable but that it the only information I have found.

Having had the camcorder since the summer, I find it has already been superseded - by the newly-announced AX53 with a true optical zoom range of 20x. Still the same viewfinder though.

Sony FDR-AX33 Camcorder: On location

It is one thing testing and using a camcorder around the house and on tame holidays; it is another using it in the wild, in extremes of weather and on land, air and sea to video wild life varying in size from a Blue Whale to a small insect. Neither is it useful to read most reviews and forum comments from ‘film makers’; they are looking for something entirely different.

I have now put this camcorder through the wild test for the first time and so I can add to the comments I made in my post of 12 June.

The video quality was excellent in medium to good light; less so, with noticeable apparent compensation for noise, in poor light. I made use of infrared Nightshot as I thought I would (and a good reason to buy Sony). Active Steady-Shot (BOSS) proved to be superb.

However, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) although improved from the last Sony I had is still a weak point: too dark (with no control over brightness) and with a seemingly low refresh rate. It is still an essential in a camcorder but all I can say is that it is better than nothing. By comparison with the EVF on a modern CSC, it can only be rated as poor.

I missed the GPS built into my last Sony. I carried a separate battery charger (essential when travelling but not supplied with the camcorder) and four batteries.

One annoyance was that after being outside in the sleet in the mountains of Tasmania, condensation misted the lens when back in the warmth. The condensation was not simply on the outside of the lens. I eventually got rid of it by leaving the camera on (i.e. taking video) for about 10 minutes; as it heated up the internal condensation cleared. I though condensation problems disappeared with the last tape drive but this was clearly not the case. Incidentally, when cleaning the lens, it is a case of first catch your lens; the lens assembly moves on it gimbal as you try to clean the surface.

The USB lead which emerges from the side and is tucked into the strap was a small worry; it seems too vulnerable to damage.

I am, overall, very pleased with this camcorder. I am also pleased that that is the case because there are not many options in the fairly light and useable (for my interests) camcorder category. However, I do feel Sony could have done better, as I said originally, by including features like GPS and charging more.

One aspect has been puzzling me, and others too judging from the comments on forums. That is the non-digital zoom range with different Steady-Shot settings. That will be the subject of my next post.