Thursday 14 December 2023

SONY RX10iv. Making Soft Release Buttons That Fit and Stay in Place

I bought the Sony RX10iv mainly as a video camera. I assigned video on/off to the main shutter release button (the Movie button is small and awkwardly positioned as on so many cameras mainly designed for still photography) for use when in dedicated video mode. I was delighted to find the shutter button has an old-fashioned screw-in cable release socket. It would therefore take a standard screw-in Soft-Release Button. I thought that would be a useful accessory since the shutter release is fairly small and only just projects above its surrounding ring. For starting video recording on or off a tripod, especially in cold conditions, a larger, raised button would surely be better.

The Soft Release Button was named not because it is made of soft material (although some were made partly of hard rubber) but because it was thought it helped photographers squeeze the shutter release and therefore avoid camera shake. It was a standard if little used accessory in the days of film cameras.

I soon found there were oodles of soft release buttons on Amazon and eBay. What could possibly go wrong? In short, although the several I tried screwed into the socket, they did not stay there. The slightest movement, even turning the camera upside down, resulted in the button falling out. They were soon sent back for a refund. Could I make my own?

My home-made Soft Release Button

Accessories that fit into the cable release sockets are supposed to be interchangeable. They once weren’t—Leica had its own. The specifications of ‘Shutter cable release tip and socket’ are described in ISO 6053 with two variants, tapered threads and parallel threads. The RX10iv socket has a tapered thread and so did the buttons I bought from Amazon that did not stay in place.

Standard cable release tip I have had since the 1960s

I had some 3 mm grub screws, with parallel threads ending in an unthreaded cone, in the garage. I found that they fitted and tightened perfectly. It was then a case of finding some way of attaching a button to make my own soft release.

I made three different versions. The only points of design I had to bear in mind were not to make the diameter of the button so wide as to foul the surround of the socket (I set a maximum of 11 mm) and not to set the button so low that it might hit the socket surround before firing the shutter. All the items I used are easily available from Amazon and/or eBay and use common tools, except for my final design which needs a lathe.

I also discovered that soft release buttons decorate cameras as more of a fashion statement than utility demands. Luxury versions made of wood or stone and bearing decorations are available at high prices. It is amazing what people will pay for. For those seeking a functional version that works on a real working camera, an outline of my three versions is shown in the accompanying diagram. The following notes provide further explanation of what is needed.

Style 1. Very simple construction

This is the simplest to make. The only problem that might eventually arise with it in use is if the button were to receive a hard knock, sufficient to dislodge the epoxy used to attach it to the metal parts.

1 M3 6 mm cone point grub screw

1 M3 Nut

1 Button  - sewing box raided - measured at 10 x 2.2 mm; 2 hole

Loctite threadlocker

Epoxy (Araldite Rapid Steel - I had opened tubes already)

Milliput Extra Fine filler

Spray paint

Threadlocker was applied to the blunt end of the grub screw which was screwed into the nut until the ends were level. Excess Loctite wiped off and left overnight. Button attached with Araldite and left overnight. Holes and depression in button filled with Milliput, smoothed and left overnight. Top sanded flat and spray painted (threads protected by pushing into cardboard).

Style 1 Components

Style 1 on camera

Style 2 Taller and more robust

1 M3 10 mm cone point grub screw

2 M3 Nut

1 M3 8 mm diameter washer

Loctite threadlocker

Epoxy (Araldite Rapid Steel - I had opened tubes already)

Milliput Extra Fine filler

Spray paint

1.5 mm Styrene Sheet (as sold for model making)

11 mm disc punched out of styrene sheet (cheap hollow punch sets for leather etc on Amazon). One solid hit (against a solid piece of timber) with a heavy hammer produces a clean circle. Centre drilled 3 mm. Edges cleaned up with sandpaper.

Threadlocker was applied to the blunt end of the grub screw. Two nuts added leaving room for the washer and half the thickness of the styrene disc. Excess Loctite wiped off and left overnight. Washer and styrene disc attached with Araldite and left overnight. Hole in disc filled with Milliput, smoothed and left overnight. Top sanded flat and spray painted (threads protected by pushing into cardboard).

Style 2 components

Style 2 on camera

Style 3 Lathe needed

Brass button 11 x 3.3 mm turned on lathe. Centre drilled 2.5 mm. Tapped 3 mm

1 M3 6 mm cone point grub screw

Loctite threadlocker

Milliput Extra Fine filler

Spray paint

Threadlocker was applied to the blunt end of the grub screw. Inserted into brass button, leaving 3.5 mm protruding. Excess Loctite wiped off and left overnight. Hole in brass filled with Milliput, smoothed and left overnight. Top sanded flat and spray painted (threads protected by pushing into cardboard).

Style 3 on camera

And yes they do work as intended—and stay in place.

I have since read that other owners of cameras with cable-release sockets have experienced similar problems with the commonly available commercial soft release buttons. Some have resorted to using threadlocker in the socket (not recommended since heat needed to remove it) or nail varnish. Better to just make your own.

Tuesday 21 February 2023

CANON LEGRIA HF G70 CAMCORDER Review 2. Noise? What Noise? The swings and roundabout of sensor sizes and lens apertures

It is a truism that a large sensor will show less obvious noise in low light than a small sensor. Given equal processing and noise reduction algorithms, a camera with a large sensor and not too densely packed pixels must perform better in low light than a camera with a tiny sensor. That sounds obvious but in practice there is another factor at play in video recording: the lens aperture. Since the exposure for video is constant or virtually so (i.e. 1/50th of a second for 25 frames per second or 1/60th for 30 fps) the aperture of the lens is the determinant of how much light reaches the sensor over that period. More light equals a higher signal:noise ratio and, therefore, less noise. Some people, many online, interpret having to increase the ISO setting, or gain, as the cause of the noise. That is not so. Increasing the ISO setting simple increases the gain of the amplifier to make the image visible; both signal and noise are increased.

The Canon HF G70 has a 1/2.3”* sensor. The maximum aperture varies across the zoom range between f/1.8 and f/2.8. To see how good—or bad—the noise was in low light I compared it first with the main camera on the iPhone 14 Pro (‘main’  f/1.78, said to be size 1/ 1.28"). This test was done in a dim, northerly facing room in daylight. The Exposure Value was 4. In the deepest shadow area there was a little noise and I could not find any difference between the Canon HF G70 and the iPhone. I then compared the HF G70 with my Nikon Z7, which because of the very large number of pixels is known to be noisier than the Z6. I put on a 50mm f/1.8 lens. The Exposure Value was 4.3. Again there was a little noise at f/1.8 (ISO was 800), slightly less perhaps than on the HF G70 and iPhone. However, when I turned the aperture to f/4 (keeping the shutter speed at 1/50 and letting the ISO setting increase to 4000), there was marked noise. In other words, my Nikon Z7 in full-frame mode at f/4 was noisier than the Canon HF G70 and the iPhone 14 Pro at f/1.8. The difference between f/1.8 and f/4 is 1⅓ stops (EVs) but of course a more than doubling of the light hitting the sensor.

In other words we are talking about trade-offs with apertures, sensor size and depth-of-field. One advantage of using a full-frame camera is being able to isolate a subject in a narrow depth-of-field. However, with video, the depth-of-field at f/1.8 is wafer thin. With a 50 mm lens at a distance of 5 metres it is only around 20 cm. Therefore, it is highly likely that I would want to use a smaller aperture. With a smaller sensor, the same depth-of-field can be attained at a larger aperture so what you gain on the swings by using a camera with a larger sensor, in terms of noise, can easily be lost on the roundabouts of using a smaller aperture.

This is all a very long-winded way of saying that I am very pleased with the performance of the Canon HF G70 in low light. My guess is that Canon have got it as good as it can be with the current state of technology. All my trials have been with 4k video. I note that Canon in their marketing of this camera stress ‘Over Sampling HD Processing High quality Full HD. Uses the 4K UHD sensor to deliver superior Full HD images’. I haven’t tested that yet.

While I was doing all this I realised something I had not fully taken in before. When my Sony AX-53 (also a 1/2.3” sensor) broke down in use (cash refunded by Amazon) and I unwisely bought the Sony AX-700 just before covid lockdown (camera also broke down in use and just out of extended warranty but with very few minutes on the clock) that the advantages of the larger (the so-called 1” sensor) in terms of noise and of a slight isolation of any subject at larger apertures, were offset at least partially, by the smaller maximum aperture of the lens. The AX-53 is f/2-f/3.8 over its zoom range; the AX-700 f/2.8-f/4.5. The Canon HF G70 as I noted earlier is f/1.8 and f/2.8 (over a much wider zoom range).

Unfortunately, it is not worth trying to show the videos of the trials; the definition here and on YouTube is just not good enough for any difference to be illustrated. It is also worth pointing out that while I always try to take 4K, I normally put this on a 1080 timeline thus giving me the opportunity to zoom in by cropping without losing definition. I did that with all the samples (where I could spot the noise on playback on my 24” Mac with 4K Retina Display). However, when I did as I usually do, output the video as an MP4 file and looked at it on a television (no, not one of those huge things that fill a wall) I could see no noise, except for the slightest flicker evident in the footage from the Z7 at f/4.

*Desperately needed is some international standard for sensor sizes in cameras. The use of fractions of inches and the like can be utterly confusing. We need  the dimensions in mm--a simple statement some manufacturers are very reluctant to state. That, together with the number of pixels should be a standard imposed. 

Coming Next: Ergonomics and Setup

Friday 3 February 2023

CANON LEGRIA HF G70 CAMCORDER Review 1.’ IR Mode’ Confusion

To replace the died-in-service Sony AX-700 which in turn replaced the died-in-service Sony AX53, I considered all sorts of options, from using my or another full-frame or aps-c mirrorless camera, to relying on my bridge camera, or, in a decreasing market, to get another camcorder. I should explain at the outset that I want a video camera for my specific purpose not, as most people write about, for commercial advertising or for making wedding videos for customers. Opinions from the latter seem to dominate online.

Having tried all sorts of cameras and having retried them after the Sony died, I still find a camcorder the best for wildlife. The weight and form factor are important. The grip is ideal for holding the camera steady and the microphone does not have to dangle from a perch on top. It can also be ready to use in seconds. If I were just taking personal travel videos I would simply use my latest-generation iPhone with its state-of-the art computational photography. But for wildlife, a long-focal length lens is needed, and some camcorders fill that bill.

There are very few camcorders now being made that fit into the ‘prosumer’ category. Sony had no new models and I did not want to pour any more money down that particular drain. I have used Panasonic camcorders in the past but have always been disappointed with the autofocus, limited to contrast detection and often found to focus on something that could be focused on rather than something which needed to be focused on. In that respect, the Sony, with its on-sensor phase and contrast detection, was superb.

Then I found that last September Canon had released a new range of camcorders. Amongst them was the HF G70, called a Legria model in PAL countries and Vixia elsewhere. But I could not find a single review of the model anywhere; nothing, apart from Canon’s own marketing material (website here).

Canon HF G70 (from Canon Website)

Reading the specifications I was in two minds. The Sony AX-700 hit that sweet spot of sensor size. The so-called 1-inch sensor produced relatively low noise in low light compared with the smaller, 1/2.3 inch and now, I see, 1/2.5 inch, of most camcorders aimed at the low-end and prosumer markets. Notwithstanding some excellent features, the HF G70 seemed a backwards step to a 1/2.3 inch sensor. However, it is a brand-new model compared with the Sony models still on the market six and more years since their introduction. There has been time for improvement in sensors and electronic processing of the signals over those years, so I decided to go with the Canon. Very few UK retailers had it in stock which I presume is still down to the shortage of chips. However, WEX did and were offering a free extra: a large additional Canon battery. WEX soon had it on my doorstop.

In this series reviews as I set up and use the camcorder, I will concentrate only on those aspects important for my purposes. But before that, in this first article, I should point out a puzzling mismatch between the marketing material, clearly derived from Canon, being used by some dealers, the instruction manual and the capabilities of the camera. That mismatch extends to within the list of specifications on the Canon website. The question is simple: what’s all this about an infrared or IR mode?

In the overview section on the Canon website:

A host of outputs and recording options include Infrared mode

The overview of the camcorder’s features on the websites of a number of dealers throughout the world shows a bueelt point:

Infrared mode captures high-quality video in low light

Then the ‘Specifications’ section of the website contradicts itself. Here in the Exposure section we have mention of an |R mode:

Exposure Metering

Center-weighted average metering 

AUTO, P, Av, Tv, Portrait, Sports, Low Light and IR modes 

Segment evaluative metering 

Night Scene, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Spotlight modes 

No metering in Fireworks mode: Exposure constant

But then under Shooting Modes we see: 

Infrared Shooting Mode     Not supported

There is no mention in the instruction manual of an IR mode or of infrared. I have also searched the camera menus and controls for anything about an IR mode. I have tried the low light and night modes to see if there is any sign of infrared or near infrared detection being used in the imaging process even though the IR Mode is mentioned as something distinct. Again, no.

When I read the marketing blurb I assumed that there was an infrared mode, akin to Sony’s night mode which produces a green hued monochrome image in response to an infrared source or infrared illumination from the front of the camera. There clearly isn’t but what has been going on with the introduction and marketing of this camcorder? Was an IR mode planned for this camera but then ditched before release? Indeed an IR Mode is present in the 'professional range. Did those responsible for marketing not get the message or only half one? Whatever happened, Canon need to clarify what is and is not in the list of features of the HF G70. Otherwise those thinking they were going to get an IR video in the dark functionality will be disappointed.

Tuesday 3 January 2023

How to throw £1590 down the drain. An object lesson from a Sony AX-700 camcorder

I bought a Sony AX-700 in May 2019 to replace an AX-55 which failed just after the Sony warranty expired but for which I received my money back from Amazon. With covid delaying planned foreign travel, I have used the AX-700 very little, probably under 7 hours of recording in all. I took it on a wildlife trip to Indonesia in November, keeping it in a special compartment provided out of air conditioning. I then carried it in a waterproof bag up a hill to a bird hide (blind). It had been raining and the humidity in the hide was high. The AX-700 would not turn on. I put it on a bench beside me. Somebody sitting behind noticed some time later that the green light had turned on spontaneously. The camera was extremely hot, especially around the screen display area so I switched it off using the button inside the flap. Again after a few minutes it turned itself back on. I again switched it off and disconnected the battery.

Over the next day some functionality returned to the viewfinder and recording but only for a few seconds. The camcorder shut down.

Back in UK I sent it to Sony for repair. This was the reply:

Regrettably we are unable to repair the unit as we have found it has suffered liquid contamination, therefore we are unable to guarantee a reliable repair. Please note this damage is not covered by warranty. Attached is the photo of the contamination. In order to resolve the case, we wish to offer an alternative solution. We wish to offer a new FDR-AX53 at a discount price of £270.71 as a replacement for your unit as it is no longer available. Please note if the replacement is accepted, your original unit will not be returned.

Thanks but no thanks was my response.

The camcorder has been kept in dry conditions since I have had it. Reading more about corrosion in electronic circuits, it seems high humidity is sufficient to dissolve the salts formed from the soldering flux deteriorating over time which then cause mayhem.

I then sent the photograph to another, independent, repairer. He also said a repair is impossible because of corrosion. It seems there are no spare boards available for the AX-700. I am left with a useless hulk. And Sony are still selling the AX-700. I wonder when they were built.

My love/hate relationship with the AX-700 is over. My views on Sony are unprintable.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Sony FDR-AX700 Camcorder. Coping with the viewfinder eye adjustment wheel

I do not know which genius of industrial designer puts an unlockable adjustment wheel in just the position where it is inevitably going to get moved. Well whoever designed the viewfinder of the Sony AX-700 camcorder did just that. Not only does it take great care to pull the viewfinder to its open position, the wheel is so positioned that it catches on the sides of camera bags, on straps and on clothing. Much foul language is emitted when all I can see is a grossly out-of-focus image in the viewfinder. Three times in six days of use it happened to me recently.

I thought about trying to lock the wheel in place with sticky tape—as some users do—but sticky tape often comes adrift, especially in hot places, and if somebody else uses the camera then they have to adjust the dioptre setting to suit their eyes. Not only is the adjustment wheel unlockable, but it is also uncalibrated, so there is no way of knowing it has moved out of position or how far it needs to move to restore the setting.

I decided that instead of trying to tape the wheel in position I would put a mark on both body and wheel where I found optimum focus. This I did with a 0.7 mm white paint marker. Provided the paint sticks (so far so good) I can at least return the wheel quickly if it does get moved or if somebody else uses it. I could also use a different light colour on another position of the wheel to suit another regular user or even a different eye.

That's the eye (dioptre) adjustment wheel which gets moved accidentally

...and that's the index mark I have added across body and wheel

Monday 27 June 2022

Sony FDR-AX700 Camcorder. Another annoying feature in a case of ON or OFF

That’s very odd, I thought. I must have left the viewfinder pulled out. Several times I have found long clips of video on my Sony FRDR AX-700 camcorder. Only when I found comment in a forum on the annoyances and idiosyncrasies of this camera, did I realise what I had been doing. On all other camcorders I have had, returning both the LCD monitor and the viewfinder to the closed position turns the machine off, even if the camera is still recording. Indeed I have used that method to stop recording and turn the camcorder off since pressing the on/off recording button inevitably causes a small movement in the clip. And that is what happens according to the main text of the instruction manual (either monitor or viewfinder open, power on; both closed, power off). But it doesn’t. In in small note under the main text describing powering on and off is written: When recording movies or when connected to another device via USB, the camcorder does not turn off even if the LCD monitor is closed and the viewfinder is returned to its original position.

So, if still recording intentionally or accidentally (see below) the camcorder cannot be turned off by the usual means. It carries on recording. It must be that some bright spark at Sony thought this would be a good idea to save battery life during long recordings with the camcorder mounted on a tripod with no need for the monitor or viewfinder to be used. The problem then gets worse because even if, with the monitor and viewfinder closed, you find it still recording, one might have thought that stopping recording would then turn the machine off completely. But no, the camera stays turned on. To turn if off the monitor or viewfinder has to be opened and then closed.

This problem of stopping recording and turning the camcorder off is exacerbated by another highly annoying ergonomic failure. To the operator, the only indication of whether or not the camera is recording video is a tiny indicator in the top right of the monitor and viewfinder. The tiny letters change from STBY in green to REC in red. That’s OK—if not exactly a signal loud and clear—indoors or in moderate outdoor light. However, in bright sunlight, the monitor is difficult to see (even with it brightness turned up). Turning to the viewfinder in bright sunlight is like staring into the Black Hole of Calcutta and it takes some time for the eye to accommodate to the dim indicator lights (the brightness of which cannot be controlled). Because a definite press is needed on the button to switch recording on and off it is difficult to confirm what the camcorder is actually doing. Hence it is possible to both miss shots and to to leave the camera recording accidentally.

Screen and viewfinder information in Standby and
Recording modes. Easy to see indoors and on dull
days but try the viewfinder in bright sunshine and
it's a different story. And pity those who are
red-green colourblind

I have written before of how I regard this camera as my curate’s egg. I can only repeat my conclusion:

This camcorder then is typical Sony: some brilliant features let down by poor ergonomics, poor user interface and poor documentation. 

Unfortunately, this 2018 model (the manual is dated 2017) has not thus far been replaced. With camcorders being out of fashion I am not surprised but the the AX-700 still being sold by Sony for a high price (£1,800) relative to its features. I am sorry to say that Sony has not seen it fit to update the firmware for four years when there are so many features that could be improved. The AX-700 is not a great advertisement for Sony ergonomics or for its care of what customers experience.

Monday 18 April 2022

A Robust and Cheap Conversion of a Gitzo G1375 Tripod Head for Arca Swiss Quick Release Plates

 I bought another old Gitzo tripod a few months ago (a chap even in these days of in-camera stabilisation can never have too many tripods). It came with an off-centre Gitzo head (G1375M) which had an old-fashioned screw fitting to the camera. It must have been made after 2002 because it has the modern Gitzo logo.

Those major manufacturers Gitzo and Manfrotto make excellent tripods and heads but the constantly changing multiplicity of plates and closure mechanisms drove me to despair, to not a little annoyance and to the occasional literal wrap on the knuckles from those infernal spring-loaded devices that release the operating lever at great speed in the direction of flesh and bone. I came to prefer the Arca Swiss system and standard width of 38 mm for the plates that Chinese and other manufacturers adhere to. My various cameras now fit all my tripod heads without having to change the plate.

Although rather excessive in weight these early off-centre Gitzo heads work very well (I once had one of the same design (G1376) which had a proprietary quick release system. They can achieve all sorts of angles and they lock with little or no drift. I decided to hang on to the G1375M head but to convert it to take Arca Swiss style plates. Some people have been doing that for years with clamps made in the U.S.A. but prices were high. The entry of Chinese manufacturers selling under a plethora of brand names brought much lower prices for these simple devices.

I bought an Andoer CL-70N Quick Release Clamp (i.e 70 mm long) because instead of just using the single screw on the Gitzo head to hold it in place and on which it might work loose, I could fix it more securely by using two bolts screwed into the clamp. I keep a few steel ¼-20 UNC bolts, washers and nuts (i.e. for the standard camera tripod socket) on hand. I had to shorten the bolts to a thread length of 17 mm. I used Loctite Thread Locker as I tightened the bolts. From the various types of clamp available I see that only with the 70 mm models can two bolts be used; there is only one, central socket in those 50 mm long. I can of course use Arca Swiss style camera plates of all sizes in the clamp.

Total cost: £27.99 plus two bolts and a drop or two of glue.

Before - with the fixing bolt removed