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Being Flexible...

Most photographers worth their beans know that unless you are shooting video, LED panels aren't going to provide you with enough light to shoot the kinds of still frames you can when you use Speedlights, or large studio heads. It's a given. Regardless of that fact photographers will admit that LED panels aren't going away which is why when the folks over at Roberts Camera called and asked if I'd like to play with some of these new Wescott Flex panels I said "Yea lets give them a shot". (See what I did there?)

xflex-led-westcott-daylight-3_2(Photo from Robert's Camera's Website)

First off I'll say as usual that I wasn't paid by Roberts or Westcott for this review and that I'm doing it for the sheer pleasure of being able to play with the newest toys first. With that said, I'll continue with the fact that the biggest issue I have with LED panels is that in my humble opinion they aren't bright enough. Simple as that. Sure, you are using a much slower shutter speed when shooting video (1/30th or 1/60th) as opposed to stills where you are all the way up to 1/8000th depending on the situation, but that's besides the point. The point is that a LED panel doesn't need to be crazy bright unless you're outside shooting where normally a reflector takes the place of a LED panel. When shooting video the LED panels can be great for just throwing some fill in, but they are nowhere near as portable as a good speedlight or reflector. Despite what you may think, a good set of LED panels can be heavy and cumbersome. NO, they are not heavy and cumbersome like a 500watt halogen, but they are still relatively bulky and you end up needing to sort out a way to transport all this stuff to and from location. Between the bulkyness and the brightness, those are some big problems for every day use on the go yea? Not so with the Westcott Flex.


The Flex is only 5mm thin, and it's totally flexible. That means that it can be clipped or clamped to just about anything, as seen above and in the video below. I don't have a Gorilla pod, but I'd imagine that a gorilla pod adapted to mount a flex on it would be incredible. Not as a gorilla pod would normally be used mind you, but with the bendy flexy legs made to attach to the Flex unit, so that you can still mount it anywhere but you keep the flexibility of your flex panel. Put it in your backpack with your laptop and take it with you. Simple as that. Forget needing a carrying case or having to worry about the bulbs breaking or ect. There is a protective coating over the Flex that protects it from most things; including water. It's weatherproof rating is for lack of a better term more like Splash proof meaning that you wouldn't want to use it in a pool or run it through the dishwasher to clean it but I wouldn't worry about it if I was outside filming with it and it started to rain a bit. It goes from 5% power to 100% power which in total is 1900 lumens at a little over 3 feet. To put that into perspective, you see that florescent light you are more than likely sitting near? That's only 800 lumens. Not kidding.


(Nikon D4s, 400ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, 1/100th@F6.3. Nikon SB900 set to iTTL with a blue gel for the background tirggered by a Nikon SU-800 on the camera. Main light was the Wescott Flex using the 1/4 stop diffuser that comes with the kit).

Don't believe me on the brightness? Check out this video version of this blog which also illustrates how bright the Wescott Flex Actually is!

Shot with a Nikon D4s and a Sigma 35mmF1.4 Art. Camera controlled by the CamRanger for filming. Audio is only ok, for whatever reason my Rode Shotgun wasn't in its normal case so I decided to film without it.

So yea. I was shocked when I turned it on for the first time too. I have a great photo of my Shannon Grimacing when I turned it on for the first time to take a portrait of her to see how bright it actually was. I promised not to post it, which is why I can only recount the tale and reassure you it is quite the photo demonstrating brightness. The photos in this post however also describe how bright the Flex is considering the background light was a speedlight! That's right, the main light in the photos was the Wescott Flex, and the supporting light was a speedlight Speedlights! I also managed to keep the shots below 400ISO the whole time depending on what effect I wanted to achieve. (See the same shot above with different settings HERE). If I had to pick one and only one thing that you should be aware of if you are considering buying a Westcott Flex, it would be that the unit still requires some sort of household power. You can get away with using a Westcott Encore unit however, or other battery pack with a 12 volt outlet so it's not a big deal. The kit also comes with a waterproof 16' extension to the cables also giving you a lot more roaming around space. Until however there is a battery solution though, you will need to use the Encore or other outlet based power solution.

So the punchline is that the flex is a LED panel is here to stay, and in all honesty the first panel I'd consider adding to my kit. It's a beautiful piece of tech, and if you shoot video the fact that it's daylight balanced already should be a real selling point. If you're shooting video and want to snap some stills I feel like the Flex is finally to a point where photographers can consider just snapping away as they aren't going to need to crank their ISO into unheard of territory in order to get the shot at a reasonable quality. That's huge for newspaper folks who have to shoot still AND video on a regular basis.

If you're interested in a Westcott Flex follow the link to Roberts Camera here in Indy. (They also sell the Encore) Call, email or just go visit they are good people.

Otherwise, more soon.



Que Audio IQ Rig Review...

I always love getting calls from the folks over at Roberts Camera here in Indy because either they have something very exciting to talk about that I likely don't understand, or they have a product they want to send with me into the field to either evaluate or break. Despite the fact that the aforementioned breakage has in fact happened, to a point where I was offering to buy the equipment within an hour of having the beta units, this trend still continues because either they like my writing style, they like my opinion, or usually the way the items break is generally entertaining to say the least. That said, this last time they called was because of a new product coming out geared at Newspaper photographers and reporters everywhere named the Que Audio IQ Rig.


(Photo Courtesy of Robert's Camera's Website)

First off I need to say that I am not being paid to do this review (or any of these reviews) so any difficulties I have with an item out of problems with construction or just my sheer stupidity I'll tell you all about. That's what makes these fun. Why is this important for newspapers? Before I left the Indianapolis Star I went through training classes with the editorial staff on conducting interviews and editing the video with the iPhone's iMovie application. The newspaper had several "rigs" for the staff's provided iPhones to record the information usually including some kind of shotgun mic, an obscure wide angle lens adapter and generally shaped to look like an Indycar Steering wheel with a iPhone as most of the display information. This is great for if you are walking around as it gives you a good handhold on your phone, but not a whole lot of stability right? This is where the folks over at Que Audio have decided to come to the rescue with their IQ Rig, which frankly if I still worked at a newspaper I would probably use incredibly frequently.




The rig itself is pretty self explanatory. It's essentially a cell phone holder like you would find in a car except with a base with some rubber feet on it. The base is well thought out as it's got a mount to put the rig on a Tripod for on location when something like a table isn't an option. It's a beautifully simple "well duh" design that just works in that you put the phone on it, back it up to the appropriate distance and rock and roll. The important part of the IQ Rig is the Microphone which is something the iPhone (or Android phones) don't do well for interviewing applications. The iPhone's microphone is Omnidirectional, meaning it just picks up everything it can hear from everywhere. This way if you do an audio interview you can set it down on a desk between two or three people and get ALL of the conversation. This is great for audio interviews, but not for video interviews. To test this out I took the IQ Rig to a restaurant here in Indianapolis and attempted to do an interview with my friend Paul D'Andrea of PDA Photography here in town. My goal was to do a short interview of Paul and his journey of going from web developer to self employed photographer. Attempted is the key word because either the IQ rig is more complicated than I had thought, or something wasn't quite working right with my copy..... I was having a terrible time getting the microphone splitter to work through my headphones and eventually gave up meaning I have no interview of Paul. It was great to catch up with him, but I also wanted to have a bit more of his story on video. As you can see the recorder worked without the headphones working, but I didn't know that at the time. Either way it makes a great sample of a with and without in a busy place. More information after the clip.

So yea the real issue wasn't the noise in fact the Que Audio IQ rig microphone really knocked down a lot of the ambient. I was impressed to say the least. In retrospect it would have been a solid idea to listen to the video at the restaurant and just see, however after several minutes of fumbling we decided just to enjoy lunch. I only learned later that the rig did it's job, and I just gave up early. Live and learn. After this, I tried to use 4 different sets of headphones, and none of them registered with the IQ rig's splitter to let me hear the audio while being recorded. I could hear the tappity tap tap of the phone's controls as I punched them through the headphones while connected to the rig, but when video was recording it was silent as though I was just wearing my headphones to avoid having to talk to folks in a busy place. Always fun, but not always what you're looking for when wearing headphones; especially with a piece of gear like this. Again I did try 4 pairs of headphones, so I'm just assuming that the copy I had was just malfunctioning OR it could be that the jack is only used to listen to audio during playback without having to unplug the rig completely, but why would you not be able to listen to the audio? It is just splitter right? With all of that out of the way, I need to reiterate that the device really did record great audio as you can see of my interview with my friend Brad here in the video below. The interview I did with Brad was basically asking him what he thought of the IQ rig, which he had never seen before and whether or not he though it was viable in his line of work. (UPDATE: I talked with Mark over at Que and he informed me that monitoring audio via the headphone jack is app dependent, and in most cases does not work due to latency issues. Kind of like watching a dubbed movie. He did say that it was easy to test the mic by whispering into it at about an inch away from each side to determine it's effectiveness in every direction would greatly help you understand what it was capable of also.)

I chose to interview a non professional photographer to go with this interview for a few reasons. Pro photographer has certain pre conceived notions about iPhone photography as well as they look at this and immediately think newspaper. Brad, while owner of lot of Nikon lenses and a Nikon D800, also is the general manager of his company Ultrasun USA. Brad stated this would be great for employers to be able to record job interviews as well as folks that go to trade shows often to be able to get testimonials of their customers and clients unobtrusively as lets face it; cell phone's do a pretty decent job with photos and videos these days and the IQ rig isn't all that scary looking. I know I even I don't feel like having my video taken or done by anybody with a scary looking device and I carry scary looking devices!


IMG_6184(Brad holds his iPhone 5s up to the fully extended IQ Rig)


As you can tell from that image the device can hold almost any sized smart phone even with the case on it assuming that the headphone jack is accessible. Overall I would have to say I was greatly impressed by the Que Audio IQ rig. It really held its own in terms of recording very useable excellent audio with a device that just about everybody carries in their pocket and has with them every day and everywhere from in the car, to the office to in the bathroom. I think my only complaint as a professional is that there is no way to visually monitor the audio coming in through the microphone on the phone's screen. I'm sure there are video apps out there that do that, however I was just using the standard camera app on the iPhone and as you can tell from the video above Brad's audio is a bit quieter than mine. I left it that way to demonstrate that you do need to be careful when recording your audio that you keep it consistent, because while some things can be fixed in post it's better to not have to do that. The punchline here is that I'm more impressed than I thought I would be. As far as phone accessories go this one is pretty solid. Something I didn't even touch on is that the rig was customizable and that you could even easily pan and tilt the phone and the microphone during recording to maximize your video's audio and visual potential. If you're looking to make the most of your iPhone or Android Phone's video and audio capabilities I think that this is a must have in your kit. It's light weight, and small. It uses a couple of tiny special batteries in the microphone, but they looked like the ones you find in hearing aides that generally come in 20 packs from the local Drugstore. Plus it is relatively small so it can easily fit into a backpack, or messenger bag to take with you as you travel as Brad pointed out. As always if you're looking to buy a Que Audio IQ Rig, do it HERE, or call the folks at Roberts Camera here in Indy. They are very knowledgeable and will even let you come in and play with one before you buy. I promise you, if you shoot a lot of video with your iPhone and you think the audio is lacking? this will solve your problem. More Soon


Sports! Video! Hotness!

It's cold outside.  Really cold.  But, its going to warm up.  It simply must.  Because spring sports cannot be played on icy fields.


Soccer, baseball, softball, track and field and sculling.  Did he say sculling?!  Yep.  They all have something in common.  You just can't seem to get close enough.  Aren't you tired of carrying around those ridiculously large and heavy binoculars from 1992?

Haaaaave you met the Canon HF R400?  Full 1080HD, 53X zoom, fully automatic metering, fast auto-focus, optical stabilization and small enough to fit in a coat pocket (although we do recommend a small case to carry it and extra batteries, memory cards, etc). It weighs in at just over a half pound, but packs a heavyweight contender's punch.  To top it all off, MPEG-4 recording to make post-production and sharing blissfully simple.  Spend time capturing moments not being a slave to your computer screen.

$70.00 of instant savings glory expires March 1st, 2014.   Get it while the price is HOT.  See!  We're thinking warm already.

HF R400

HF R400


GoPro Preparing to GoPublic with IPO



GoPro, you know, the guys who make those kickin' outdoor cameras we're finally allowed to sell again, has apparently announced they're going to take their little operation (about $500 million in 2012) public with an IPO. So far they've proved to always be one step ahead of the competition with their products, so, provided they can keep that kind of break-neck innovation up under the normalizing pressure of the shareholders this might be a good one for you investment-minded people. For our part, we'll be interested to see how it goes for them and exactly what it'll mean for the juggernaut of action video.

Read more at Imaging Resource where we learned about it ourselves.


Sony Adds New 4K Camcorder, New Action Cam with Splashproofing

Mirrorless compacts not your thing? How about video? Sony has also dipped its toes into the burgeoning 4K market with the FDR-AX100 (which you will find on their site with the extremely generic name "4K Camcorder with 1" sensor"), and has updated its entry into the already burgeoned sprots cam market still dominated by GoPro.



The FDR-Ax100 is, as mentioned, a 4K camcroder with a 1" sensor (it's an Exmor R with 20mp for stills and 12 for video), with a 3.5" swing-out touch panel as is typical for this style of camcorder. The lens is a 12x f2.8-4.5 model with image stabilization with Zeiss branding (hint: how do you know it's "designed by" Zeiss and not "made by Zeiss?" Look to see if they're still calling it "Carl Zeiss optics," that's how! Zeiss itself has formally dropped the "Carl" from the brand. And now you know.) As advertised, it'll record 3840x2160 video at 30 frames per second using Sony's own XAVC-S codec. AVCHD is along for the ride too, but you'll have to drop to boring old 1080 at either 60 or 24 frames to use it. Want 1080 at 30 frames? Back to XAVC-S you go, buddy!

Not a lot else about it is surprising if you've used a Sony camcorder anytime in the past many years. It still uses Memory Stick, it's still got all the usual video quality goodies, and honestly despite Sony's weird love for proprietary nonsense it'll probably take pretty darn lovely videos for its $2k asking price.



And then there's the new Action Cam (model HDR-AS100V/W), which is confident enough to carry a $300 price tag but not to actually tell me what video resolutions it'll do, so, this might be a short write-up. It's got a 13.5 megapixel Exmor R sensor and XAVC, so, it's possible it could do 4K as it meets the hardware requirements to do so, but there's nothing to say it actually does so let's assume for now it's just 1080 and 60fps on the high end. It does have built-in GPS and WiFi and image stabilization for the lens (which'll cost you 50° off the field of view if you turn it on, knocking things down to 120° from the standard 170°). By itself it's ambiguously "splashproof" but the specs are quick to point out if you want waterproof, shockproof, or dustproof you're going to need the optional housing. So, all-around I'm penciling a big question mark next to this. If they've fixed the control weirdness from the last generation and bring their image quality to bear, this could go up well against the mid-level GoPro. But, without more specs behind it, I can't tell you anything for sure.


Novus Select Multimedia Workshop - DSLR Filmmaking For Photographers.

Dialed in for working still photographers and the skilled amateurs looking to step up into the biz, the Novus Select Multimedia Workshop (previously the Aura Multimedia Workshop in Boulder, Colorado) is available in two flavors.

101 - a seminar on "the fundamental issues facing still photographers moving in to video and dSLR filmmaking." This will go from 8am Saturday August 10th through 6pm Sunday August 11th.

201 - The seminar as well as a hands-on workshop running from Monday 08/12 through Thursday 08/15. Head on over to Photography At The Summit for the full scoop and registration details. Video after the break.

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New Sony Camcorders at CES 2013.

CES is well underway in Las Vegas, and Sony has announced many new camcorders to their already impressive consumer lineup.

First, Sony has stopped producing  their last two standard definition models, SX45 and SX85.  The entry level, CX220 will have an 8.9MP sensor for still image, Carl Zeiss lens, AVCHD and MP4 video recording, and 60p record capable.  That's a lot of camcorder for only $249!  The CX230 get you all that and 8GB of internal storage for $279.  The CX290 gives you optical stabilizer for $349.


Balanced Optical Steadyshot came out on last years CX760 model and it was a very impressive feature.  The lens seems to "float" as you move the camcorder around and coupled with the optical steadyshot, it's as if you are walking around with the camera on a steadycam arm.  The problem was to get all of that you had to spend $1499.  Not anymore!  The new CX430V and  PJ430V will have that feature and are $699 and $849.  Both have 8.9MP sensor, 60P recording, GPS integration, 5.1 channel mic and mic input, 16GB of flash memory, and Multi Interface Shoe.  The PJ430V adds a projector as past models have had, but this one adds HDMI input, so you can project video/stills from other devices.

The top dog is the PJ790V.  At $1600 it is a premium price, but you get some premium doodads on it.  First, it has a 24MP sensor for great stills and unbeatable low light shooting.  Sporting 96GB of flash memory, you get hours of record time without needing an SD card.  The cool part is the projector.  They upped the brightness of the projector to 30 lumens so it should be a pretty respectable piece, unlike previous models where it was more a novelty.  With the HDMI input, you could use it as a projector for all your toys while you are on the road and bored in the hotel room.

Sony expects to ship all of these goodies in mid February.  We will know more when we get our hands on them!



Sony Announces Two New Bloggies, Encourages You To Get Your Splash On

Sony's Bloggie line of camcorders may have had a rough start back as the Webbie HD series, a duo of compact cameras aimed squarely at the social generation... and the now-defunct but then-popular Flip pocket camcorders. Since then, the line has evolved into the Bloggie series, moving away from Sony's... less than popular memory stick cards to integrated memory, and adding increasingly elegant design with touchscreens and metal bodies. And now we have not only your annual refresh, but the addition of a ruggedized waterproof sports Bloggie, too.

Up first is the Bloggie Live HD (also known by it's technical name of MHS-TS55/S, for those of you who are more fluent in cyborg than I am). Starting with the hardware, you're looking at a metal body, in which is housed a fixed 37mm equiv lens, a backlit Exmor sensor that does 1080p video or 12.3 megapixels for still, a 3" touchscreen, 8GB of internal memory, a flip-out USB dongle, built-in interfacing software for Mac and PC, and a wi-fi card.

Using that wi-fi, you can do more things, like upload direct to social sites (YouTube, Facebook, etc). And going even further, it can now do live streaming (something a lot of the press could probably use out at CES this week). Honestly, this is probably the best spiritual successor to the Flip I've seen announced, and anyone who's been looking to fill that hole in their life should gaze long and hard at this beauty. It might just be the way to go. Especially for the relatively painless retail of @249.97.


But, if you need something a bit more... durable, don't worry, the Bloggie line now has you covered there, too, via the Bloggie Sport HD (MHS-TS22/L in the cyborgese). If you're willing to trade down to a 2.7" screen, a 5 megapixel still function, and the wi-fi, you can add on waterproofing down to 16 feet, and drop protection up to 5 feet. Which ought to make this a gem for adventuring types. For some reason I'm still thinking kayaks. I think I have a fixation, here.

And, because there's apparently a law that waterproof things need to look sporty, the Bloggie Sport HD does indeed sport it up, though not without a certain sleekness. And it'll do so for you in your choice of blue, red, or black (all adorned with black rubber trim). You also get to shave some scratch off the price, dipping down to $179.97 for this one.

It's worth noting before we leave that both models also feature Sony's sensor-shift IS, LED lights, and auto-focus with face detection. Which pretty much rounds out what you'd expect from a pocket cam.




Canon Gives VIXIA Camcorder Line a Freshing Up


In addition to the new still cameras, Canon's revamped its camcorder line with six new HD flash-memory camcorder models, three in the M series and and three in the R series. Previously easily thought of as being differentiated by whether there was built-in memory, the two are now separated by sensor size. The M series features a larger 1/3" CMOS sensor, and the R series a more budget-conscious 1/4.85" one.


A big feature for (most) of these new camcorders is social integration. Four of the six models (the HF M52, HF M50, HF R32, and HF R30) have wi-fi and via that can now upload videos directly to popular sites like YouTube or Facebook, or iOS devices with the aid of a free app. They also have DLNA built-in, and as such can share with DLNA-enabled TVs directly (and might also be discoverable by other DLNA devices like Xbox 360s).

Other shared features across the range are 3" touchpanel controls, 1080p recording, 38 scen settings, smart Auto exposure, new audio setting presets, AVCHD/MP4 formats, and optical image stabilization. After that, models are differentiated based on things like lens, whether they have internal storage or need SDXC/SDHC/SD cards, and whether they have the Wi-Fi/Social options. They break down like this:

Camcorder Zoom Storage Wi-Fi / Social Price (At Launch)
M Series (1/3" Pro Sensor)
HF M52 10x 32GB Internal Flash Yes $749.99
HF M50 10x 8GB Internal Flash Yes $649.97
HF M500 10x SDXC/SDHC/SD Slot No $549.97
R Series (1/4.85" Sensor)
HF R32 32x 32GB Internal Flash Yes $549.97
HF R30 32x 8GB Internal Flash Yes $449.97
HF R300 32x SDXC/SDHC/SD No $349.97

Additioally, he M series is now 15% smaller for each model than last year's, and now boast a minimum illumination of a mere 1.2 lux. The R series is a whopping 21% smaller for each model, but only works to a more conservative 5 lux.

Press release is, as always, after the jump.

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Canon announces big video plans!

So the wait is almost over.  Last night, Canon announced their new Canon Cinema EOS system.

What started out as a magnificent accident with the amazing Canon 5D Mark II is developing into two types of movie cameras.  The first is the EOS C300 series.  One will have a Canon EF mount and the other will have a PL mount.  This will give the RED cameras a run for the money.  This 4K capable camera will be completely modular in design, so you can customize it to whatever your needs require.  It will boast a Super 35 equivalent 8.3 MP CMOS sensor with an active image size of 24.6 x 13.8mm.  It uses the XF codec that Canon pro camcorders have been using for the last few years, with 50MB/sec files, so editing won't be a hassle.  Pretty cool!


C300 side view


The other big announcement was a little vague right now, but more suited to our customers here at Roberts.  It is a Canon 4K DSLR.  Basically it's a 5DMK II on a massive dose of steroids!  It will have the familiar DSLR feel with the new Cinema engine.  Here is what Canon says about it exactly:

Equipped with a 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor and supporting the recording of 4K video* (at a frame rate of 24P, with Motion-JPEG compression), the next-generation digital SLR camera currently under development will enable exceptional image quality for the creation of innovative and expressive images. Additional details, including the product name, specifications and scheduled launch date, have yet to be decided.  Here is a picture of it:

Canon 4K DSLR

So now, the waiting game begins.  At least we know something is coming.  I guess like the announcement of the 1D X, they let you know what's coming with enough time to save those pennies!

Of course, these new cameras wouldn't be complete without some new glass to go along with all of it.  Here is a listing of what is coming in PL and EF mount:

EF Cinema Lenses CN-E14.5-60mm T2.6 L S EF mount
CN-E14.5-60mm T2.6 L SP PL mount
CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S EF mount
CN-E30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L SP PL mount
CN-E24mm T1.5 L F EF mount
CN-E50mm T1.3 L F EF mount
CN-E85mm T1.3 L F EF mount