Sunday, September 29, 2013

New minimum wage for California in 2.3 years, it will still be behind Canada but what the heck …. it is a step … and Wal-Mart – #1 and falling fast … bad for people, bad for governments, bad for the economy … huh?

Yeah … that all sounds a little weird, doesn’t it …

Well, listen to this excellent discussion from The Young Turks YouTube network, where they outline the new California 10 dollar an hour minimum wage (yes, we in Canada are already above that) that takes effect in 2016 … over 2 years from now. There is huge push back of course, as the wealthy right wing nut jobs are swearing up and down that it will kill California’s economy … this is, of course, utter baloney.

San Francisco already has a higher minimum wage (only in the USA do you have a situation where every level of government has huge power to muck with their citizens’ livelihoods it seems) and their economy is booming. Burger King and McDonalds aren’t running away … they are running towards San Francisco. Because consumers with more money in their pockets spend it!!!

The TYT talk goes on to cover this issue very well and then transitions to a savaging report on Wal-Mart's falling profits. They have adjusted their orders down two quarters ahead … which is truly rare. This signals that they are being pounded into dust by falling sales.

How could that be? After all, they roll back prices weekly, regardless of how many poor souls are collapsing every week in their factories in the far east. That must be drawing people into their stores like crazy …. no?

No. You see, they have lost the plot …. their brand of mediocre goods at dirt cheap prices appeal very much to many people (including me) … but the engine that really consumes their stuff is the working poor. They can do very well there and I’m sure that they do. Except that Wal-Mart has been the #1 employer in the USA for years now, and thus their own people are probably their biggest market.

But Wal-Mart is also a classic tribute to the avarice of the wealthy … they have always fired people before unions could get organized, they pay crappy wages, and they avoid paying benefits wherever they can. The film above discusses the new phenomenon where all of the Wal-Mart stores that they surveyed have replaced full time staff with temporary staff. Pretty much across the board.

This has two negative effects – first, their primary market is disappearing (same effect as the destruction of government budgets by sending the entire middle class to the far east, only on a slightly smaller scale) because temporary employees get no benefits, probably get less hours than a full week’s worth each week, and are effectively on a starvation level hourly wage. Second, they don’t tend to have enough employees to keep the store shelves organized and they have fewer motivated employees than once was true (exploited people quickly lose that sense of family as motivation to do a good job), so the stores are a bit of a mess these days. Guess what that does? It sends people to COSTCO.

And speaking of COSTCO, they actually pay an average of over 20 bucks an hour, use full time employees, and their profits are growing. Looks like good employee practices have a positive effect on profits. (Well, DUH!)

And here is the black eye for the American taxpayer … the video discusses a study that was performed regarding the tax implications of the obvious financial benefits for Wal-Mart shareholders and owners and they conclude that every single store in the Wal-Mart chain is now costing over a million per year in taxpayer benefits to the poor that work there. So … to make this perfectly clear … Wal-Mart does not have to pay benefits for medical etc. with their new strategy … but someone has to pay when these people get sick and that is now the US taxpayer. One million dollars per year per Wal-Mart store as an average.

Sneaky, but obviously effective. And apparently legal, as are so many counter-productive behaviors in US law. And since the people at the top are probably making more money overall, do you really think they care at all about a drop in profits? (Maybe … I guess we’ll see where it goes.)

Anyway … a great little video … I really enjoyed it.

And they alluded to a series of “banned TED talks” that got the speakers into trouble for telling the truth. This one is particularly truthful in that it tells the truth about the fact that the rich do not create jobs. You and I (consumers) do …

Some graphs to illustrate the tilting of the table that has made the rich so much richer and buried so much money (dead money, basically) offshore … the first one illustrates perfectly how wrong the common wisdom is that says that rich people create jobs. Utter hogwash. This is a self serving oft-repeated (by the rich) platitude that is meant to shut off debate. The Democrats play along with it (perhaps because most of them are also wealthy?) and it must just be easier to take all the nation’s wealth without earning it … one supposes …


The USA have stopped taxing the highest income earners … where exactly is the sense in that? At the very least, should not everyone in a country contribute a reasonable amount of their excess? After all, they get paid ridiculous wages and where does it say that they should sock millions away in overseas accounts to be wasted? The speaker in that TED talk makes the point clear …

“I make thousands of times the average income, but it is impossible for me to spend thousands of times the average consumer.”

and …

“Hiring more people is the last resort for a business, fueled only by excess demand”

And as we know, making people poor shrinks demand … sigh …


And what have costs done while the average American (and most of the western world by extension) has taken this terrible beating? Have they mercifully stood still? Bwa ha ha ha ha …. not a chance.


The median household income in the USA is stagnant at 50,000 …. if the average American retained the same percentage of the GNP they used to have, that number would be a lot higher …


The game is fixed, and the whole world are the losers … those in government who make fiscal policy throughout the west need to stop drinking this kool-aid and start thinking about rebuilding the powerful middle class tax and consumer base …

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Serious talent … Canon 550D makes superb indie film in Norway …

This is a short film that you just have to see if you have any interest at all in shooting video with a dSLR or mirrorless camera … I am absolutely blown away by the production values from the very skilled hand held stabilization (the whole video is hand held with a shoulder rig) to the lovely tone and color, which takes some truly skilled grading …

These people have a real future in film …

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Crappy neighbors …

I work at home because the teams and customers I work with are scattered all over the world. And in spring and fall I like to have the windows open to let in fresh air.

Sadly, the neighbor adjoining the rear of my property suddenly has a pair of dogs that are poorly behaved to say the least. And much worse than that, visitors bring their dogs over to play during the day and I watched her encouraging them to frolic while barking. Geezuz …

This results in an off and on all day cacophony that is deeply annoying. But it gets better … they like to stay up late, partying in their gazebo. And for reasons unknown, the dogs have to be out there too. So I get to listen to the dogs bark well past the noise bylaw deadlines …

Such boorish behavior … I know this because I was once where they are and I got set straight by one of the other neighbors – but I am unwilling to have that kind of nasty confrontation.

What to do … what to do ….

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Published again in the Ottawa Citizen Ourtown Section … Update – it never rains ….

Many, many thanks again to Robbi Hay, editor of the Ourtown section of the Ottawa Citizen newspaper for using my work in the heading …

Update: And even more thanks to Robbi Hay for using it a second week in a row. Tomorrow, 3 October, will see it used again!

This image was shot this past spring with the Panasonic G5 and the wonderful 100-300 lens … it is shot at the Stony Swamp area …


Get your Ottawa Citizen this Thursday to see what’s happening in town this week …

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Battle of the APS-C and m4/3 latest generation flagship cameras at high (3200) ISO – Nikon D7100, Sony NEX-7, Olympus E-PL5, Olympus E-M1, Panasonic GX7, Panasonic G6 – For comparison, the Nikon D600, Nikon V2 and Fuji XF1 -- Updated April 2018

Wow … things have really changed since the last time I wrote one of these head to head comparisons. Or have they?

The APS-C generation of cameras have rightly chosen to take their sensors to 24MP, which is a small but welcome advance in resolution for that user base without overly taxing this generation of sensors where dynamic range and noise are concerned. The m4/3 crowd, on the other hand, are starting to really normalize their sensor capabilities and are really competing these days on features.

Aside: I have maintained in the past that m4/3 have been doing this a lot longer than people thing. Despite a huge lead in DXOMark’s sensor scores (think eye candy for measurebators), there is minimal difference when you process high ISO RAW images from the better sites. So while I am sure that it might be easier to get a great image under some circumstances with the Sony sensors in the Olympus flag ship cameras, in fact I am quite sure that the vast majority of the defenders of the faith are more interested in owning the DXOMark leader than in actually taking advantage of those areas where the lead has some meaning. So to make this point a little clearer – I choose to buy the cameras that do what I want without slavishly following DXOMark numbers. Thus, I am a Panasonic user so that I can enjoy the dSLR like styling and the wonderful video performance. YMMV, and if it does then don’t worry too much about this little article as you won’t agree with it anyway. :-)

So have the APS-C managed to leap forward enough in this generation to create a clear demarcation between their high ISO image quality and that of the m4/3 cameras? Short answer: Not that I can see.

So why do I choose 3200 ISO? Well, because that’s where you want to shoot these cameras in low light most of the time. It can give adequate shutter speeds with reasonably fast lenses in almost any lighting. Note, though, that if you are trying to shoot in low light with kit lenses at full zoom you are going to be disappointed. Shutter speeds will be too slow and you will not get results that will make you happy. So definitely grab at least a 2.8, but preferably a 1.8 prime for your low light work. You will be very glad that you did….

So where can you get samples that are shot well enough to perform a valid comparison? Well, as far as I can tell, the only site left with a really good low light comparison is Imaging Resource. I used to like the DPReview comparator, but the new one leaves me a bit flat. They got rid of the massively illustrative needlepoint and line drawings in the middle, and they got rid of the feathers and the crayons. What is left is small stuff that makes most cameras look about the same. A real shame in my opinion.

So … Imaging Resource. I have used their images many times for articles like this and I never fail to be clear that they hold the copyrights on the original images, which you should definitely go look at to explore these cameras’ performance for yourself. The reproductions I have here are very small (720px on the long side) and are meant only to illustrate my points.

Normalization has been performed on these images because comparing different file sizes is pointless any more. The vast majority of cameras have from 12 to 24 megapixels and the vast majority of images are either posted online or printed fairly small. If you are looking for a hint as to which of these cameras would make better poster sized prints at 3200 ISO, then I am afraid that you have missed the boat quite completely. For that kind of shooting, you should be looking at full frame and I would personally grab a D800 or a D600, depending on available budget. This article is about the needs of the more typical person that just wants to shoot images of the new baby etc …

Aside 2: Now, let’s stay on that theme for a moment. How much camera do you need to shoot kids in low light? Well, there are two issues that you need to be aware of: ability to focus and respond quickly enough to capture moving kids, and ability to shoot at 3200 ISO without excessive noise.

I’ve worked with the state of the art in 1/2” sensors, 2/3” sensors, 1” sensors, 4/3” sensors, APS-C sensors and FF sensors over the last few years (and yes, the state of the art has advanced, but relative performance never really changes) and I can tell you that the larger sensors invariably perform better than the smaller ones. In the words of the infamous Montgomery Scott – Ye canna change the laws of physics!

However, there is a peculiar glitch in the system where m4/3 and APS-C are concerned. I find there to be little difference between these sensors at high ISO, so the real difference would be your desire for slightly better background blur and your preference for, say, dSLR AF performance over contrast AF performance as is the normal in all mirrorless cameras. The E-M1 has a form of phase detect AF now, but it is not a match for a dSLR like the D7100, so you do get a really nice advantage there if you don’t mind the much bigger bodies and lenses (and trust me on that one … I can carry four Panasonic bodies and lenses to match and still feel like I have less in the bag than the D7000 kits I carried.)

To me, there is a huge image quality gap at high ISO that separates m4/3 from everything below, and an equally huge quality gap that separates full frame from everything below. Where there is little in terms of a relevant quality gap is between APS-C and m4/3. There is of course a slight increase in the ability to blur backgrounds by going with the slightly larger sensor, but for some reason the difference in noise characteristics is really quite small. I process RAW for everything and I just do not see a serious advantage to processing my D7000 of yesteryear over processing my G5 currently. In the same basic lighting, the pain is about the same.

So all that having been said, it is time to look at the differences between these state of the art cameras …

I’ll show you the overall image at the previously mentioned very small size of 720px on the long side, which will more or less give you a sense of how each image will look on Facebook. Basically, if you can see a really important difference down to m4/3, then you are probably kidding yourself. You should, however, see a real difference when we drop to 1” and 2/3” …

So … the D600, a full frame camera:

Yes, it looks about perfect. Smile

Now, the D7100 representing the first of the APS-C sensors:

Close enough. How about the NEX-7, Sony’s entry into the fray at APS-C size?

And again … at these Facebook sizes, the differences vanish. (Trust me, when you see them at full size the FF stomps the APS-C and m4/3 … but we’ll get to that shortly.)

Now let’s introduce the once and future king … the Olympus OM-D E-M1. This will be presumed by the Oly fan base (as vociferous as exists for any manufacturer) to easily handle the APS-C and all Panasonic bodies … but frankly, the reality is that pretty much all the modern m4/3 cameras are close enough to APS-C to make for a difficult decision if basing it on low light photography.

But at Facebook sizes, it shines as brightly as the previous cams. It really is very, very good.

And representing the previous generation of Sony sensors from the E-M5 days is the E-PL5, arguably the best sensor our there before the newest Oly came out (according to DXOMark anyway, and you know my thoughts on that.)

Yup … it’s beautiful …

Now, here come the Panasonic bodies. Here is where the Oly fans draw the line :-) that I think exists for m4/3. I think you will find that the Panasonic sensors are well above the line too …

We’ll start with the GX7, which of course is the latest generation of Panasonic sensors and is widely touted as possibly the best yet for stills.

Hmmm … is that right? It looks essentially identical to the ones above. As I already knew would be true. And no only at these sizes, as we will see shortly.

The final entry is the G6, which is basically the love child of the G5 and the GH2, having the best features of both and a well tweaked sensor that started with the GH2. The G5 already has that same sensor with about the same performance, so I am quite familiar with its abilities.

Yes, it looks the same … what a shock :-)

Ok, so that settles the Facebook question. If you print small (up to 8x10 or even a bit bigger) or post to Facebook then arguing over the prowess of these sensors is pure measurebation. Seriously.

But … what if you want to carry something even smaller? Let’s take a quick peek at the Nikon V2 with its 1” sensor and then the Fuji XF-1 with its 2/3” sensor. These are quite popular and for very good reason. The V2 is especially useful for those who shoot distance objects and wildlife because it can shoot Nikon’s super long lenses with AF working. And with a 2.7x built in crop factor that makes something like the 70-300 into an 810mm lens that works hand held. This is some serious mojo, and the video is excellent too. The Fuji, on the other hand, is just one of the better compacts out there and has EXR technology so it can preserve highlights really well. I am very fond of Fuji and I shoot a 1/2” sensor with a really long zoom as my concert cam.

Anyway … here are the two of these …

I probably should have cropped the V2 to match the others, as it gives the V2 quite an advantage with the subject so much smaller. So it looks like this camera handles 3200 ISO adequately so long as the final output is not very big. Good for Nikon …

Hmmm … even the Fuji looks acceptable at these sizes. Go figure. Of course, the hair is just starting to get that “helmet” look that we dread, as the clumping is starting to become very pronounced. But if you keep the images small enough, you can get away with a lot.

So … the bottom line … for small Facebook images, these camera all do well. And there is no visible difference at least down to m4/3 between any of the cameras.

So now we need to find out what would happen if you cropped aggressively or printed larger. And here we will start to see some differences.

A note on methodology: Since I processed these from the RAW images, the reader has to take it on faith that I am able to get each image to look its best and am not playing favourites with any specific brand in mind. If you choose to not believe that, I cannot help it … you are free to go :-). So, the method is simple … I use a classic Lightroom methodology by working down from the top. The white balance is left essentially as is, but the contrast is tweaked a bit and so is clarity, vibrance and saturation. I like these images to be warmer than most cameras default to as the “skin” looks waxy when too pale. And the key here is to try to remove differences that are not important. So I use the converter to get tonality as close as I am able, and then I try to get the balance of detail and grain as close as I am able. That’s they key to my quest … to answer the question “is there a practical difference between these sensors to someone reasonably skilled in Lightroom?”

Starting again with the D600 …

Wow … 3200 ISO and no hint of grain or clumping. The slight clumping apparent as the hair goes around back of the mannequin’s head appears to be caused by background blur to me. Anyway, at this ISO, this is about as good as it gets.

Now, the two APS-C cameras. First, the D7100.


The difference is instantly apparent as there is clumping in the hair already. The eyebrow is also less crisp. But otherwise, this is a nice performance.

The Sony has even more clumping. I have often wondered why the NEX series seems weaker than the Nikon dSLRs despite sharing sensor technology. I don’t know the answer, but perhaps others do. Of course, it could easily be the lenses as well, Sony’s weakness appears to be right there.

Ok, that gets the big dogs out of the way … the gulf from FF to APS-C is obvious. Now what about the gulf to m4/3 from APS-C? Here goes … the E-M1 is first as it is the newest flagship and was pre-crowned by Olympus fans so it should stomp everything in sight :-)

As expected … pretty much match for the Nikon. If I could make one quibble, it would be with the amount of grain in the m4.3 sensor. It is enough higher then that of the Nikon sensor to make it a tad harder to smooth out the “skin” around the “eye” … but otherwise this image looks great. Really great. And better than the NEX-7, which I expected. Pretty much a tie with the Nikon APS-C (and well below the full frame, which is also fully expected.)

So how about the E-PL5, which measures a bit better than the adored E-M5 on the same generation of sensor?

Hmmm … I actually like that slightly better. Same clumping, same tonality, but smoother graduation around the eye and nose. Very subtle, though, so it could easily be a slight tweak away from being identical. Which is kind of my point with this article :-)

And then came the Panasonics. Again, here is where the Olympus cognoscenti would draw the image quality line, but I don’t really think that works. Let’s see …

Very nice … still has the clumping, but also has nice smooth gradations along the eye and nose. Very similar to the E-PL5 rendering, which is itself very similar to the D7100 rendering. But there is a hair of difference to the APS-C … the definition of the eyebrow is just that much clearer. Still, the difference is pretty tiny.

And bringing up the read would be the G6 … a woefully underpowered sensor according to DXOMark.

A wee bit more grain maybe … otherwise pretty similar. And that is my point … if you want to shoot really nice video and stills with a really small dSLR form factor (the G6 is similar in size to the G5 and that one is a joy to shoot for an ex-Nikon shooter) then you should seriously consider if you can make the DXOMark difference count. I’ve not actually seen a practical demonstration of that difference, but let’s assume that it exists (benefit of the doubt.) If you have not seen the difference and are just going by forum rhetoric then maybe you ought to think a little deeper about what it is you want out of your camera(s) …

Ok … let’s close it off with the crops from the V2 and then the XF1. I talked earlier about the huge gulf below m4/3 sensors, and I was not kidding. I realize that the very small complete images did not show any significant difference, but I expect that to change with the following two crops.

Yeah … that’s what I meant. I actually loved shooting the J1 when I had one. But after shooting it a couple of times in really low light, I realized that I would never be able to carry it instead of the D7000 and that became the inflection point that led me to dump all my Nikon gear. Instead of carrying a strong low light camera and a really weak low light camera, I figured I might as well consolidate on one format and not split my resources across two lens formats.

And am I ever glad I did … I have excellent video in four bodies with excellent stills in low light on three of them and tolerable stills in low light on the older body (GF3) …. so my kit is really flexible now and that is exactly what I have been after for so long.

And the finale … the XF-1 …

Brutal. A completely different league. If you buy one of these, it is a Facebook camera. Do not pretend otherwise.

My conclusion is that you have to make up your own mind Smile

Quite the copout, yes?

Well, true … but the point is that you can see that there is little difference between any of the modern cameras at high ISO in the APS-C - m4/3 grouping, so you can consider them close enough for most purposes. However, there are some differences that you should look at on paper before making the leap … especially if you are a beginner. Some of them are:

  • You will likely be happier with JPEGs out of the Olympus cameras, although this generation of Panasonic bodies can be tweaked to get pretty close.
  • You will enjoy the IBIS on fast primes for video on the EM-1, but none of the others can match it. Still, if you don’t mind shooting a stabilized lens or using a monopod or tripod, then Panasonic cameras have better video in general.
  • You will prefer the dSLRs if you need faster AF and more reliable speed of startup etc. There really is no substitute, although I have not really missed that aspect of the D7000.

So best of luck to you. I hope that gave you a tiny bit of insight but if not, consider going to yourself and looking over the many test shots for these cameras. It really is a wealth of images that are to a great extent directly comparable. Well worth your time …

Update April 2018

So I ended up owning many m4/3 bodies and loving most of them. I still have a GX85 and several lenses as my international travel kit. It is small and light with the 12-32 and the 45-150, both very sharp and very small. But ... I decided in and around 2016 to start the switch back to Nikon dSLRs because my interest and opportunities to dabble in video dried up somewhat (terrible hours at work contributed) and because I finally decided that I love the feel of a serious dSLR body in hand and while shooting. And so I got a D90, which I just sold to a friend for his wife this past Christmas (yes, I gave him an excellent deal of course). And now I am shooting the D7200 and D600, which is a wonderful pair of cameras. I have the Tamron Unholy Trinity of the 28-75 2.8, the 19-35, and the 70-300 USD. These are fabulous lenses with excellent sharpness even wide open, and I got them all for less than half the cost of one one Nikon lens. Of course, I got them used. I even got an 80-200 2.8 2-ring for a song on eBay. So I could call it the unholy quadrilogy or whatever.

But the point of this update is not to poo poo the article above, but rather to say that I tried hard to emphasize the practical differences between APS-C and m4/3 with an eye to minimizing them, but in fact those sho shoot in low light a lot really do appreciate the step up to the D7200 and D600. It matters.

Yet I still would love nothing better than to jump into m4/3 fully once more. The G9 is magnificent, as are the 100-400 from Leica and other new Panasonic lenses. But I got the D600 and the D7200, plus the unholy trinity for about the cost of a new G9. I'm not kidding. The difference is that new lenses and bodies for all brands are horrifically expensive, and m4/3 does not have as interesting a used market to me because only the latest bodies are even remotely competitive with my dSLRs for my needs (as in for what floats my boat). But at least I still have the GX85 to remind me that there are good alternatives, and if you have the bucks you should definitely consider the m4/3 system. There are plenty of pros shooting those now, especially for studio work since adding light narrows the differences to negligible.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Future Shop Web Site – Shamefully bad with Chrome …

I’ve reported this issue to Future Shop (at least a month ago) and they stubbornly leave their web site full on busted. One example …


So far so good … the main page has various tabs on it and it is mostly useful. But what if I have a specific item in mind, which I do today. I am in fact looking for Lightroom 5 upgrade packages to see if anyone has a discount going on. Just a quick search through the various suppliers that I have found to have sales off and on (Future Shop, Best Buy, Staples, etc.)

So I enter “Adobe” into the prominent front and center search box, which is obviously meant to be very convenient.

And …


Every single time for a very long time …

If you waste your time by diving into the web site through its own menus and then search, you usually have better luck. But this is the very first thing that many people will do … and it has been broken forever.

Now, you ask, perhaps it is just your browser. And you would be right. This search box actually works on Firefox. But so what? Chrome is a dominant browser these days and the team must test every browser. Sheesh … that’s the job.

And by the way … they sell buckets of Adobe software but no upgrades for Lightroom … huh?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Incredible deal on Panasonic GF3 and 14-42 X Vario pancake zoom!

Canada Computers is having an incredible sale on this combination …


You cannot even buy a crappy little compact for that kind of money, yet the GF3 has a nice 12mp m4/3 sensor and it can record very high quality video with the Cake 2.3 hack. It fits in any coat pocket and is very rugged, as you can see here!

So if you are shopping for a small camera to carry around, you could do a whole lot worse than this camera even at its previous sale price of around 429 … but at 249 you are literally stealing it. The lens alone goes for that on eBay so you cannot lose money as far as I am concerned (but if you do, don’t come crying to me please) …

And this link will take you to the page where there are three colours for sale … black, brown and red.

To repeat:,DCPA000370,DCPA000375

Some people are just a-holes …

I saw this cute article in a quick lunchtime surf and felt like commenting on one of the points it made … click on the image to see the article itself.


I went to Sweden last week and found that my patience for assholes is starting to wear thin. On the flight from Arlanda to Heathrow on the way back, I sat in the middle seat on a 737, so you know I was already not very happy. I folded my arms across my chest and tucked them in as far as I could so I would have the illusion of my own space. I am a good traveller to sit beside … trust me.

But the guy in the aisle seat was a total asshole. Tall with a huge gut, he sat there and read his iPhone for most of the flight. He would switch hands every 45 minutes or so, so I spent at least 90 minutes of the flight with his left elbow in my side and my arm – despite being pulled way into my tiny space – touching his arm. He was oblivious. No doubt one of those guys who is used to getting his way because of his height.

Anyway … assholes are everywhere and I would have liked to redecorate his face by the end of the flight (I actually fantasized certain moves from my karate days with my right elbow :-) … but I am, as I said, a nice traveller to sit with so he skated on the violations of my personal space :-)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Filming a concert with multiple Panasonic m4/3 bodies and a pair of TASCAM personal audio recorders …

I’ve mentioned throughout the summer in various places (in the blog, on the forums, to anyone who would listen :-) that my son and his friends were planning to hold a concert for their friends and families late in the summer. Well, last Tuesday was the day and things went rather smoothly.

They rented a small venue called Club Saw, which is in the basement of the Saw Gallery, located near the heart of downtown Ottawa. Costs were quite reasonable and the venue provided both security and someone to run the soundboard and lights. They charged a very small entrance fee of four dollars to help cover costs, and the turnout was very strong. However, a bill is still expected for the soundman and the security so it is likely that there will be a slight cost overrun. Still, the venue was excellent and costs were quite reasonable.

Throughout the summer, I have been pondering exactly how to film a small concert. I knew that it would be necessary to run the cameras from a fixed position and in a single take. Else, I would be running around back and forth in front of the audience whenever there was an issue with batteries or changes to the set up or anything like that. So I ordered complete AC adapters for all four cameras from a source on eBay. They were very reasonable, the entire set costing me perhaps $50. And they worked perfectly.

The other necessity, especially considering that I had no idea how long they play for, was to get cards large enough to store the complete concert. Since I hacked all of the bodies with the exception of the G5, which is not hack-able at this time, I knew that my bit rates would be between 30 and 60 Mbps. This meant that, should I need to run the cameras for as much as two hours to cover everything I needed to, a 32 GB card would be touch and go. So I decided to purchase four 64 GB cards. I looked for a long time on various websites, and almost settled on a set of Patriot EP cards, which are reputed to be very fast. However, the new transcend cards can be had in 600X flavor, which is blazingly fast. but in the end, these were all just too expensive. What I ended up going with was the Polaroid PNY SDXC cards. these were showing as being quite fast, however my read speeds tend to average around 20 MB per second, which is pretty weak. But I had tested an old Class 6 Transcend card, and I knew that even 60 Mbps would write quite well on cards of that speed. So the somewhat lower speed of these cards Reedy was not much of a concern to me. And in fact I was right, since they ran perfectly through the entire concert with no glitches that I can detect.

Of course, I was also freaking out with respect to tripods and other accessories. I ended up over the last two months ordering for small tripods, all very inexpensive, to see which ones might be useful to hold up a camera for an hour or two. Of the four I bought, two were excellent. One made by SLIK and one made by CASON. The others are also acceptable, but I did not have to use them in the end. I had already replaced my large carbon fiber tripod with a much smaller and more pleasant to use carbon fiber tripod from Henry’s Canada. This turned out to be very useful to hold up the GH2 on the tall desk where the sound board was located. This affords a view over the audience and allows a very clean frontal view. I had, in fact, spent a great deal of time pondering where the camera should be.

I had settled on one camera with a long lens at the soundboard for the frontal view, one camera stage left, and one camera stage right. It turned out to almost work out that way but at the last minute the fellas moved the guitar chair and microphone set up to be parallel to the keyboard set up, thus ruining my stage left camera view. So I quickly pulled that up (I taped all the legs down using gaff tape) and move it closer to the guitar location. I zoomed it in a bit, thinking that I get a nice close view of the guitar and that is exactly what happened. However, it was a bit closer view than I had anticipated and Nick set a bit closer than I expected. So I really did not get a good view of his left hand on the neck. But the view of Dylan’s guitar playing is absolutely perfect.

I reserve the one camera to hold in my hands, which was the G5, but in the end none of the footage was very good. I had started with the 14-140 zoom lens, thinking that I would be able to zoom out or in at will, but I immediately noticed that the footage was very dark. So after a while I got very nervous and went to the back of the room, grabbed the 45 mm 1.8 Olympus lens and stood there filming over the audience. I absolutely loathe that footage. Lesson learned. And the slap in the face is that the footage I shot at the beginning was actually quite good. With a bit of grading it would have been just fine. So now I know that even slow lenses can do a decent job when the artists are lit.

Note that I shot only three images of the venue during the setup. The images are pretty crappy as I have very little time but at least you get a sense of the size of the venue and the amount of room I had to move around (as in not very much at all.)

The lighting was not particularly strong in this place, but there was more than enough light for the stage right camera, which was the GF three with the Sigma 19 mm 2.8. I experimented during rehearsals with having this camera in ape has a PASM mode, but in the end I felt I needed the high ISO mode so changed to scene mode and selected night portrait. This enables high ISO on Panasonic bodies. However, motion blur is not as nice because scene modes do not allow me to fix the shutter speed. This is most unfortunate, as all Panasonic needs to do to make these work really well is allow fixing of the shutter speed when in high ISO mode.

The guitar camera (shown here in its original stage left position) was the GX1 with the Panasonic 14-42 X VARIO PZ pancake zoom lens. I believe that I left this camera in a PASM mode and set the correct 180° shutter at 1/60s. The 180° shutter is very important to maintain believable and comfortable motion blur. And since this camera was focused on hands moving quickly over strings, that matters.

It is actually quite noticeable on the GF3 camera that the motion blur is to strong. But the point of that view is to be wider, so the lower quality of motion blur is not all that big a deal. However, the GF3 is known to be a very good video camera for close-ups but a rather poor video camera for longer shots. And in this case, the Sigma lens was a 38 mm effective focal length, which is wide enough to challenge the GF3.

And since I set the lens in manual focus mode and focused on the microphone, I causes the faces and hair to be very slightly blurred, further challenging the video acuity. This forced me to apply a Magic Bullet Quick Look that darkened the surroundings and applied a slight soft focus effect in order to bring all three cameras to look similar. I really like this look, but I would have liked to be able to show more of the venue. Of course, the venue is fairly drab and there were cords of odd colors all over the place, so it is just as well that I effectively sunk the background into black.

I tried the 14-140 Panasonic zoom lens on the GH2 at the rear of the venue. But I found that the ISO had to be fairly high in order to compensate for the slow lens. I check the focal length that I was using and realized that I could use a faster lens at 50 mm and achieve the same framing. I had had the foresight to bring the Pentax 50 mm 1.4 manual focus lens with me and this lens proved to record beautiful video at low ISO. However, I managed to not quite achieve critical focus on the stage so I was again very happy to apply the quick look.

One thing to note is that all of the cameras were unmanned, which means that their fields of view had to be wide enough to accommodate movement of the singers. What this led to, was a cropping of the video from the frontal view and the stage right view, leading to further edge degradation which is unfortunately quite visible in the final version of the video. However, I still feel that the video is quite watchable and so I consider it an acceptable compromise to achieve a better and more interesting set of shots rather than going for high acuity at the expense of a deeply boring visual experience.

Now, how about audio? Well, at some point in the summer I purchased a second TASCAM DR-05 personal digital recorder so that I would have at least two recorders running. I had learned from recording twice before in pubs that one position just was not enough to capture everything. In addition, I harbored the notion that I would get to tap into the soundboard and get a nice clean signal from the microphones. But this meant that I would not have a nice clean signal from the audience. So the second recorder was necessary.

And stunningly, it turned out to work exactly that way. After I had wandered about the venue in the hour before the show, taping down tripods and setting up AC adapters in getting the cameras running and so on, I went to the soundboard and asked if I could tap in. He asked what sort of chords I had, and I told him that I had brought RCA, 1/8 inch, and 1/4 inch. He said immediately that the 1/4 inch would work in the headphone jack for the soundboard. This made sense to me, since I wanted a complete mix of all of the guitars and microphones and of the two keyboards on stage.

I attached the TASCAM and got it running during rehearsals. I was able to note that the keyboards were very loud so I dropped the record levels to something around 15 or 20%. This is extremely low and would normally be a serious concern for his, however I was recording in wave at 24 bits and 48K sampling rate. I regret not going to 96K, but Sony Movie Studio simply does not support that level of audio. However, I do plan to upgrade to Sony Vegas Pro at some point and so I really should have set the recorders to 96K. Oh well, c’est la vie.

The point though, is that these settings have a naturally low noise floor according to what I have read. And I have to say that it really worked out to being the quietest recordings I have ever heard. By quietest I mean lowest noise, the signal is simply beautiful. After setting up the soundboard recorder, I walked to the front and attached the second recorder to the microphone stand facing the audience. I had mounted both recorders on small tripods, and the audience recorder was simply taped to the microphone stand using gaff tape around the pole and the tripod legs squished together. It worked perfectly. Unfortunately, it turned out that the keyboard on Chris’s first song is still too loud for the soundboard recorder and pretty much blew it out completely. So what you will notice on his first song is that the room opens up to create an enormous soundstage with a great deal of echo. This is because the only audio channels you are hearing are the audience might and the GH2, which is a decidedly challenging set up. I think it worked acceptably, but the audio improves markedly in his second and third songs simply because the soundboard channel was again available.

Aligning audio tracks and video tracks can be extremely painful. Crystals are not all made equal, and professional audio people know enough to sink them up with a constant time signal. But Mr. Hacker (a.k.a. me) has access to nothing like that. So I was faced with six separate recordings to be aligned.

Under normal circumstances, a sane person would simply purchase a professional editing tool like Sony Vegas Pro and the widely acclaimed plug-in called PluralEyes. This plug-in is used by professionals to perform semiautomatic to almost completely automatic alignment of many tracks, including automated compensation for timing drift. This is an absolute miracle timesaver. But alas, I cannot justify around $500 to make my life a little bit easier. So I did it the hard way in movie studio, aligning based on waveforms and cutting and shifting or stretching where necessary to account for drift. It is no worse than six simultaneous root canals so people should not whine about it. :-)

Luckily, it turned out that the two TASCAMs have identical timing crystals in them, leaving me with an absolutely trivial task to align the two primary audio tracks together without having to account for any drift at all. Of course, I was not so lucky with the three Panasonic bodies. Each of these had some drift and at least one of them had drift that seemed to get worse over time. As mentioned earlier, I used the hack and shift method and it turned out ok after a terrible first draft video. I would be surprised if anyone can detect where it goes slightly off in the final video, and I am not telling.

So the shoot is over and I have torn down the cameras in the recorders and pack it all away and now it is time to dump the cards to disk and see what I have. Well, it turns out that I ended up with 70 GB of material, and that took a couple of hours to copy to disk (this is why people purchase significantly faster cards, like those gorgeous Transcend 600X cards. Sigh.)

When I had the two audio tracks aligned, I locked them together. I was still able to adjust relative volume using envelopes, and I was still able to apply differing sound effects to each track. This allowed me to boost various frequencies when I thought it would work better.

Since I had three cameras with complete soundtracks, it made sense to bring them in one by one and align them in time. I started with the frontal view from the GH2 and found that it had significant drift. Once I had the beginning align, I tried selecting all of the individual events, and stretching the whole thing as a unit. This seemed to work, but later I trimmed off the excess at each end and found that it went completely out of alignment. My initial video shows this very clearly and frankly is a total mess. The audio is very dry and there is a huge sibilance in the version uploaded to YouTube. YouTube seems to aggravate any built-in sibilance, so you really need to be careful to not allow very much in. Another lesson learned.

For your interest, here is the first draft of the movie.

I actually created it because the boys wanted to have a version available so they could party and watch it this weekend. Hopefully, they will be watching the final version and not the draft because the final has squeezed out the timing errors and has three video angles with transitions in all the right places (mostly, anyway.)

In a project this large, the editing process is progressive. As I figure out what I want to do, I change the envelopes to expose the camera angle I would like, and ensure that the cut is either on a beat or just as the mouse is shifting to the microphone to begin singing. This seems to give a nice pacing that I find pleases the eye. In other words, I find that my eyes expect either no shift, or a shift just before something significant happens. Please let me know in the comments if you think I was wrong about that.

One error that I made was to get the frontal view not quite matching the side view. The frontal view has much stronger saturation for some reason and I will eventually have to go back and fix that for a third version. But as I have said, I quite like this version and find that I can enjoy watching it surprisingly often. I have listened to it on my computer with decent Sony headphones probably 10 times and to end. But hearing it on my 5.1 Paradigm Titan system on the big TV really brought home how nice it sounds most the time. But another lesson learned is that I have the base a little too high and I added a bit too much reverb to open the space. This very slightly D focuses the voices, which affects Nick quite a bit because he allowed the microphone to drift downward for his last three songs, thus putting significant competition into his songs from the instruments. He also sounds unfocused, because of the distance to the microphone. This is of course yet one more lesson learned.

So in conclusion, I had an absolute blast. Although I had absolutely nothing to do with the performances themselves, I did enjoy the pressure of trying to get decent video and audio tracks and I thoroughly enjoy manipulating raw material that I have created to get something out of it that is pleasant to watch and listen to. There is more work to do to tweak this into even better sound, and to make the video a little more consistent. There is also work to do to carve up the songs now into individual tracks for YouTube. But all in all, I am very satisfied with this final draft. Enjoy.