Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Do Androids Dream of Electric Fences?

In my previous posts I have sung the praises of cellphones as portable sound recorders.  We have done some good trials with Android smart phones running the downloaded app "PCM Recorder" - until last week when recording in a farmhouse and getting a rhythmic "click" noise on recordings.

Our farmer hostess suggested "Electric Fence" and we confirmed that after some more tests including a test recording in the nearby town.

This cellphone is a  low-cost Vodafone 858 made by Huawai.  In other tests it has done well in electrically noisy environments which have given trouble to other devices but we now discover that it is vulnerable to electric fences and we will need to be alert about other interference possibilities.

We were filming piano performances with a Sony NEX 5N camera.  Fortunately the on-camera mics did a good enough job, without clicks, but needing a little hiss removal in post.

In images below I have zoomed in on the y-axis to enlarge clicks which have a peak height of -36 dB.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Laputa online at Youtube

"Laputa" Version 2. A completed version at last. Began as a wildly and wonderfully over-ambitious entry in the NZ "V" 48 Hours competition in May 2011. Over 1 year later the animation, fx, green-screen, audio, editing is done and the festival- only period is over, so hello Youtubers!.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Our next movie - what camera to use - Part 2

Part 1 is down 3 posts from this one, or if you are seeing posts separately then the direct link is:

In brief, we think it is now possible to shoot an experimental no-budget feature in a borrowed classroom with a green screen setup.  The big enabler is the improvements in video editing software, eg the "Keylight" compositing plugin in "Adobe After Effects".  Sharing some thoughts from further reading, asking questions and running some more tests.

We have run tests with borrowed Canon HV20, Canon HF R20 and Sanyo VPC-HD2000.  This opened a whole new issue in that we discover we like the 60p (60 full frames per second) high frame rate of the Sanyo.  So now we gotta go 60p, or maybe 50p because we are in PAL territory New Zealand.  Further details.

Sanyo VPC-HD2000 - We were able to test this briefly.  We kept it simple and set it to preset "sports" following advice that a high shutter speed is a good idea.  Clear winner for a clean key result including movement at 60p and we like the 60p look.  Colours were warm and over-saturated but if we had more time with this we could probably explore its settings and do better.  The Sanyo dates from 2009 and was a cutting-edge camera then.  We and other bloggers note that Panasonic have now bought Sanyo and 60p has since been appearing on Panasonic cameras so we are guessing that Panasonics with 60p are the children of this Sanyo and worth further investigation.

Canon HV20 - an "old" as in over 5 years old cam.  HD 1920 x 1080 on tape using MPEG-2.  The attraction was that this has more manual control than the other cams we have access to.  We ran this at 25p.  Very good keying results until we do subject movement then we do not like what happens.  Staccato quality of movement and on reversing direction subject heads seem to have a ghost image that shows up by lagging a little behind the main image.  We ran trials at shutter speeds of 1/50sec and 1/250sec following some theory that 1/250 would be good but we can see no significant difference.  Our all-green-screen short film "Laputa" shot with an HV20 is now online at:

Canon HF R20 - amazingly good camera for its low price of USD 280.  We tried 24p, 30p and 60i frame rates.  30p was best with 24p a close second - both were good for keying but some of our viewers did not like the subject movement especially motion blur on human subjects.  Best keying with "cine" setting.  Could be used for a green screen epic which is low on subject movement - and that may be the case with our possible literature-based drama.

What others are saying about green screen work - with my personal comments

"Compression is bad - you need very high bit rate technology" - eg Blackmagic HDMI capture, Panasonic GH3.  I disagree on this and I suggest that the AVCHD-2 standard of 60p at 28 Mbps is a viable, low cost accessible way to go. 
Argument from theory - AVCHD temporal compression works by recycling non-moving background elements and is going to work at its best efficiency with a simple background ie a green screen. 
Argument from experiment - with the Canon HF R20 we have done trials at bit rates of 5Mbps and 24Mbps and 5Mbps looks remarkably good and not much different to 24 Mbps.

"Cine setting is good" - Agree

"Use 'hard colour' setting in Keylight rather than the default 'soft colour' setting" - Agree, has made a good improvement to our trials and also in re-working some older shorts.  Thanks to the Dastoli Brothers website for this advice.

So the continuing question of what camera?

Top of the desirable list is the soon to be released Panasonic GH3.  Testing website names this in their 2012 awards article as the best system camera for video.  Too expensive for us and we will need to go more modest for our quickie experimental feature.  Top priorities for our spending are likely to be food and transportation.   Maybe we can find someone who has bought this or similar to join the co-op as guest camera operator even for some of the shooting?  We have done this kind of thing before! 

Candidates are 1080p60 capable cameras and we would like to go digital large sensor lens-interchangable.  Some models we are investigating are:

Panasonic G5 - Some impressive sample videos on Youtube but conflicting opinions expressed on the web about possible limitation of manual control of settings for video.  Trying to find out more.

Sony NEX-5N, Sony A-57 - Mostly good reviews but with some warnings about "moire" effect and I have seen this in sample videos on Youtube eg when tiled roofs get into shot.  Trying to find out more.  Maybe a green screen production is less likely to hit moire situations than shooting in the wider world?

Interesting Web links:

"Dastoli Digital - Simple Tricks and Nonsense"

"Sony NEX-5R vs Panasonic G5: Four Reasons to Buy the Sony NEX-5R OVER the Panasonic G5"

Sony Alpha NEX-5N Review with lab testing including video capabilities testing.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Example of no-budget movie success - but what is success?

News report about Marc Price who has had a no-budget success with a zombie movie.  Good advice on how to make a no-budget movie - quality of acting performance matters more than the camera.  Questions - is this yet another zombie movie or are there elements of originality or allegorical themes to this?  Anyone know of recognition for no-budget movies with in depth themes like social justice?  I am aiming to start a no-budget movie project going with risk-taking originality - and to me it is essential to do that to make the time worthwhile.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Recommended: "Michael Goi ASC, Shooting TV with the Sony F65"

"Michael Goi ASC, Shooting TV with the Sony F65"

This is a specialist tech article from a top expert, but this is also remarkably readable for creative indies, students and beginners with some relevant advice eg "We didn't work in the raw format because TV post production can't deal with the enormous file sizes we typically use on features." - good to see that his world is not so different to ours! Also good to read what tech aspects are priorities for Michael eg "LUT", "Waveform" so we can follow up as to what they about - and can we engage with them at our level?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our next movie - what camera to use? - Part 1

We (IAFilm collective) have been on our current wave of making digital shorts since 2002 and with persistence has come improvement and some film festival screenings this year (2012). Next step is to take on the challenge of a no-budget feature. Possible shape is a drama with elements of fantasy taking on themes of "the gap between rich and poor" and "climate change". All shot human actors + greenscreen with digital-artwork backgrounds. Tech experiment of using readily available equipment to explore and push the democratisation of film-making. Use of smartphones as double-system audio recorders means that for cameras, we only need to worry about "bang for the buck" video capability. Interesting thought exercise as to what camera to use.

IMO useful internet sources from my searching:

"Making the Movie" - blog led by indie film-maker John Ott. Article on cameras at:

DXOMark. Independent lab testing of camera sensors. "Landscape" dynamic range test is the one of most interest to me:

Leading to my current list: from most expensive possibilities .. to reality of what we can borrow now ... Very approx values in USD

Blackmagic Cinema Camera, USD 3000
Custom sensor and body writes uncompressed or low-compression video to a built-in SSD drive. Takes Canon EOS lenses. Looks like very high quality for serious indies at a reasonable price. Reviewed in detail by indie film-maker Marco Solorio. Impressive results in his dynamic range test and green screen test.

Panasonic X900, USD 1200
Top of line consumer video camera with "3-MOS" sensor. Excellent resolution results in this test:

Canon HF G10, USD 1500
Top of line consumer video camera. Interesting recent development from Canon as they change their video sensors from 10 Megapixels to 3 Megapixels in order to concentrate on doing video well without trying to do double-duty as still cameras.

Canon "entry level" HD video cameras: eg HF R20, HF R30, HF R300, HF M40, USD 300 - 600
Also making the move to video-oriented sensors like the top-line models.  We borrowed an R20 for our 2012 "V 48 hours" movie -  worked well - includes green screen shots - view here:
Impression of our results so far is "almost good enough" but in the "V 48 Hours" competition we used lower-quality settings to achieve faster post-production. More testing todo including the options for 24fps, 24Mbps and "cine mode".

Panasonic Lumix FZ200, USD 700
This is a stills camera which can also do video. In theory at a disadvantage because of 12 Megapixels as small pixels on a chip about the size of a little fingertip. But the small chip leads to some lens design advantages as a trade-off.  Attractive on the democratisation principle as a popular hybrid camera that promises to do lots of jobs well. Gets good reviews. Can record 1080p60 at 28Mbps (which is good). DXOMark testing of its predecessor, FZ150, reveals that it can almost match the big-chip DSLRs for dynamic range at 100 ISO but it falls behind as the ISO goes up. Translation - needs good lighting. Owner "popi" writing in a "" forum reports owning both and observing FZ200 sensor improvement. Wins points from John Ott ("Making the Movie" link above) reporting success in shooting a quickie feature movie with one of the earlier Panasonic Lumix LX3 cameras. 
Example FZ200 review with sample video direct off the camera:

Canon EOS EF DSLR entry-level-plus series eg EOS 550D, EOS 600D, EOS 650D, T3i "Rebel", USD 800
Current darling of many indie film-makers for some extended creative control possibilities. The big sensors give good dynamic range and good low-light capability. But gets test results where they deliver less line resolution than cameras focussing on video like the Canon HF G10 and Panasonic X900. " ... 650 ... a pretty good score for a video-capable DSLR, though it certainly doesn’t come close to what we’ve seen from higher-end video-oriented cameras ..." . That may be important for a green screen production. On my todo list is to rent one of these for a weekend and run my own green screen tests.

Olympus V310 pocket stills camera with video, USD 180
Like almost any stills camera, has an HD Movie setting. Moderate HD setting of 720p30 but interesting in its use of the simple MJPEG codec which means it records a complete image for each frame. This gives it an advantage for shots with motion. The only other camera on this list that can do that is the Blackmagic at USD 3000. V310 also delivers a high bandwidth of 33Mbps which is great for indies. Early testing comparing with the V310 indicates good sharpness, but possible issues with low light capability, dynamic range and high colour saturation. TODO more testing trying different menu options. Looks at the least like a useful special purpose and experiments camera. Review of the similar VR320 at:
In the comments, "hammerogod" says this "...MUCH better Video than I expected...MUCH better.It should be advertised as a Video cam that takes Stills ..." so I am not the only one who has noticed.

Friday, July 13, 2012

PAL to NTSC conversion experiments and results

A tech challenge! I want to enter "Laputa" (7min) into a USA festival which insists on "NTSC" for previews and selected screeners. "Laputa" was shot in "PAL".
In the digital age of hi-def, the issue is running speed. "Laputa" is shot at 25fps. NTSC means a choice of 23.976fps ("24") or 29.97fps ("30").

The "24" looks like the most obvious. "24" is close to "25" aint it? I could go that way by outputting "Laputa" as about 9000 separate still images then re-importing at 23.976. Some fun with audio which would need to be output separately, slowed by 4 percent, get a pitch-up correction and then need some manual sync-up to allow for the 4 percent being an approximation. I had a think about this and decided to go for the "30" because of a more straightforward audio process if maybe more video challenges.

When we set a "25" video editing project to output at "30", this happens by repeating every 5th frame. With "Laputa" I am going "25 Progressive" to "30 Progressive" which cuts out the option of playing some tricks with "Interlacing" to give a smoothing effect. In theory I should expect a "jerky" or "staccato" effect. I am using Adobe Premiere CS5.5 software which offers a "frame blending" option to help out with this. I tried 2 x "30" outputs with and without "frame blending". Both outputs looked good as in pleasant-surprise-good for most of the movie but behaved differently for sequences with a lot of motion. For smooth animated movements the frame-blending worked better. For our fight scenes the non-frame-blend jerkiness seemed to add value while the frame-blend added blurriness to all rapid actions. So like all oldies faced with a high tech challenge I turned to the nursery rhymes of my childhood for inspiration:

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.

Which means - render out both as high-bitrate intermediates and do an A-B edit with each option covering the motion it handles best. Little detail, I also render the audio separately as uncompressed PCM (max quality) to prevent quality loss with the extra editing stage. I am living with some theoretical video quality loss with this but it looks good to my critical eye.

Some values.
Laputa original settings - 1280x720p25
3 x outputs:
(1) and (2) Intermediates (1)with and (2)without "frame blend". .mp4, codec=h.264, average bitrate = 12 Mbps, peak bitrate = 20 Mbps. VBR 2-pass.
(3) Audio PCM uncompressed 48KHz sample rate 16 bit - ie common "wav file"

New editing project to put (1), (2) and (3) together.
Typical required output is .mp4, h.264, average bitrate = 6, peak bitrate = 10, audio AAC best quality, 320 kbps.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hunger Games with Social Comment

I saw "The Hunger Games" almost by chance today. I have not read the books. Brilliant! Works for me as social comment and political satire and I found myself intensely drawn in on the thriller action level. I also love the Roman Empire and Shakespeare references. Great to see the young of today taking in powerful messages about the gap between rich and poor, corrupt authoritarian rule and media manipulation of a population. This movie is a successful "occupy" protest!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tutorial - video double-system with cellphone audio

Long have I needed a portable voice recording gadget with good quality for indie film-making. People I know now own cellphones which do this well. I borrow and film this test. Works well - methinks they have a future of frequently lending their cellphones to the film-making cause. More notes on the Youtube page.