Run and gun videography with the Sony FS7

Run and gun videography with the Sony FS7

I thought I'd do a quick blog post on the kit I use for a lot of my work. As a self-shooting producer/director, a large amount of my work is run-and-gun, documentary style film making. Often, I will be shooting solo and responsible for ensuring that the lights, sound, camera and direction is of top-notch quality. I have to be ready to shoot in next to no time. Because of that, I tend to use my compact kit a lot. This fits into one or two bags that I can carry on my own, throw in my Mini Cooper, take on the train and fly around the world with.

Camera

Sony FS7 Camera

Core to my setup is my Sony FS7 camera. 4K out of the box, 14 stops of exposure latitude and up to 180fps. This camera allows me to shoot in a cinematic style, I can deliver my rushes as broadcast quality B-Roll and I can quickly flick between frame rates when I'm filming content that could benefit from a bit of slow-motion.

 

Zacuto EVF 

A handy addition for the FS7. It also frees up the standard Sony EVF to be used as a camera mounted preview screen.


Smallrig Baseplate

To improve the functionality of this camera, I like to use a rod system. This allows me to mount a left handle as well as rig ring lights, matte boxes and follow focuses if required. One of the best finds for the FS7 is Smallrig's rigging. Their low profile base plate is so small you hardly notice it's there. They've a great selection of additions for the FS7 all at bargain prices compared to the Zacuto, Vocas and Wooden Camera alternatives.

 

Cards


XQD cards can be expensive. I do run one of Sony's 128GB 400MB/s cards but they are quite dear. In comparison, I own a couple of Lexar's 64GB 210MB/s cards. Officially, they're not supported by the FS7 (according to Lexar) but in reality, they're pretty damn fine. I've spent days shooting 150fps and 4K XAVC-I and I've not run into any problems so far.

The Lexar XQD card reader is a must when working with XQD cards. Sony's one comes free with their cards and is pretty damn unreliable. On countless occasions I've accidentally knocked it during a DIT and had to start again.

 

Lenses

Whilst I love buying glass, in reality I don't have a huge amount of time to use much of it when I'm shooting run-and-gun style. Because of that, I'm only listing the lenses I tend to use when going compact.

Sony 28-135mm f4

Key to my run-and-gun work is Sony's 28-135 F4 lens. Whilst not hugely fast or wide, this is a great lens to keep on the camera for those grab and shoot moments.


Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 G

Next up is the Metabones Speedbooster with Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 (via Nikon G to EF adapter). Superb Nikon optics, with a completely manual iris control, this does take a little getting use to but in my opinion, is easier to use on the Metabones adapter on the FS7 than Canon's 24-70mm lens with electronic iris.


Olympus 70-150mm f4 OM

My final run-and-gun lens, is a cine-modded vintage Olympus OM 70-150mm F4 (via OM to EF adapter) lens from Shoot Vintage. This is a fantastic bang-for-buck lens which produces awesome results with excellent character. I've some excellent Zeiss lenses that's had the cine-mod treatment from Shoot Vintage and they are incredible value for money.

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Sound

Sony UWP-D16

Sony's UWP microphone setup has until now been fairly overlooked I think. Whilst Sennheiser's G3's are great, in my opinion, Sony's UWP is much more feature rich and possibly better sounding (well against the G3 microphone I tested it against - although other people online will say differently). The Sony UWP receiver has a wireless hotshoe interface with the FS7 so additional XLR's and minijacks are a thing of the past. The other great thing about that, is that the receiver is self-powering from the camera which is another battery I can forget about. I also use Pinknoise Systems universal vampire clip so that I can hide the lavalier mic under clothing with as little fuss as possible. The fit is a little tight but it works.

Sennheiser MK416

I also always have a trusty Sennheiser MK416 shot-gun mic on hand with XLR cable. Should I hit any issues, or end up having to interview 2 rather 1 subjects, I've always something to fall back on. Also makes a cracking camera top ambient mic. To complete this setup, when working with other directors or camera operator, I can chuck an XLR transmitter onto it and use it as a wireless reporters mic for voxpop style interviews.

 

Tripod

Miller DS10

My main tripod for this style of one-man band style work is a Miller DS10 with Solo DV legs. Extremely lightweight, I can easily sling this over my shoulder and walk for miles with it. Not the stability of a Sachtler, and you certainly notice the vibrations when using an unstablised 200mm lens, but for the everyday stuff it works just fine.

 

Lighting

F&V R300

Obviously lighting is hugely important and often quite bulky. That was until the F&V R300 ring lights came along. I love these lamps because they're so lightweight, relatively small and so easy to carry around. The quality of the light is great for what they are. The ring shape spreads the LEDs across a great surface for a softer light. Runs off cheap NP batteries. These combined with some Manfrotto Nano stands make up the perfect lightweight 3-point lighting system.

 

Bags

I've a massive selection of bags, boxes and cases for the relatively small amount of kit I use on a daily basis. Whilst I love my Peli cases (1510 and iM2975) they're massively heavy and not suitable for this run-and-gun style work. My daily bags are:

Calumet RC2065 Rolling Camera Case Plus

Amazing bang-for-buck case. I can fit the FS7, a load of lenses, 3 Manfrotto Nano stands, a shed load of batteries and sound kit inside. I've never been a massive fan of Calumet's own brand stuff, but for the price, this really is a killer rolling bag. 

Lowepro 250

Pretty useful general purpose rucksack. I tend to chuck my lightweight LED lamps in here with my laptop, cables and hard drives.

 

Utilities

Finally, a couple of general bits of kit that I like to have on me for all my jobs.

MacBook Pro with ShotPutPro 5

I've had this laptop for 2 years now and every time I pick this up, I still can't believe how bloody light it is! Always an essential bit of kit to have on a job. I also religiously use ShotPutPro5 to DIT my cards. This is the ONLY way you know that what's on your hard drives, is what was on the cards.

LaCie Rugged

I've a load of these and they are absolutely brilliant for working on the go. I love the speed of the SSDs and I've had 100% reliability on all of my models which I never used to find with LaCie drives.

Leatherman Charge

After a decade of putting off buying one, I can't believe I made do without. I tend to use this on every single shoot these days for one reason or another.

Kleenex Shine Absorbing Sheets

When there isn't a makeup artist on hand, these are a handy standby to lessen shine coming off of talents' faces. A couple of these tend to do the trick. Not as good as powder but much less of a faff!

 

In summary, it's unlikely that I'll match what can be achieved with a truck load of lighting, director of photography, sound recordists and grip. For me, it's much easier and convenient when I have these resources available. In reality, I'm often working to tight budgets where we don't have that luxury. I need to have a kit nailed down that I can carry around and operate solo and because of that, that's when this setup really comes in use.

Are there any essential bits of kit I'm missing off of this list? If so hit me up in the comments section and let me know!

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Dealing with crashes in Premiere Pro

Dealing with crashes in Premiere Pro

 

With over a decades worth of editing experience working across a variety of NLEs, you eventually start to preempt the crashes. You tend to encounter most bugs that can be thrown up and you learn how to conquer them. Still however, on certain occasions you encounter issues that not even the senior bods at Adobe can’t fix. I thought I’d write this blog just to share some of the common errors that you may come across in Premiere Pro and where to start trouble shooting.

First up, general playback and “Premiere Pro has unexpectedly crashed” errors. Usually if you encounter this error regularly, there’s something underpinning it. It may be a dodgy codec, plugin or piece of hardware.

Codec

A little tip that I learnt from my friend and fellow filmmaker Zoe Davis, is to set the sequence codec. As standard Adobe sets as default to I-frame only MPEG. Whilst this is only for previewing renders whilst you’re editing, I’ve found this to be the root cause of many crashes. To adjust this, go to Sequence>Sequence Settings and it’s the Preview File Format dropdown. I’d suggest setting the sequence codec to Pro Res LT (if your work is primarily for web), Pro Res 422 (for standard broadcast) or Pro Res 444 if you’re undertaking colour critical work. I’ve found this to be the number one fix for many temperamental systems.

Plug-ins

Often this will be an issue you hit on whilst starting-up Premiere Pro or whilst rendering a file. It’s one of the first things Adobe will look at if you get in contact with them… Well it’s probably someone else’s fault, not ours! It’s still worth checking though.

Simply create a new folder on your desktop and navigate to

/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Common/Plug-Ins/

Copy the contents of this folder to that of the one on the desktop and then delete everything from the plug-in folder. Restart Premiere Pro and see how it runs. If you encounter no errors, it’s possibly this is what’s causing you the problems. To work out the offending plug-in, gradually reintroduce the plug-ins until you hit the point the crashes start happening. You can then pick up with the developer the issue. It’s important to ensure that the plug-ins you run, are compatible with your system. If you’re running Premiere Pro CS6 and trying run the latest Magic Bullet Looks Suite, well that might just be your problem.

GPU

GPU support on various machines has been somewhat temperamental in the past. In recent versions of Premiere Pro, I’ve found the Mercury Engine to be vastly improved and on the latest Macs, run smoothly (99% of the time). This is always worth bearing in mind though if you are encountering crashes. Another sign that this maybe an issue, is if you are encountering random green screens where your video should be or corruption in the picture. Sometimes this might actually physically be the GPU is damaged or not fully supported and apart from disabling it, there isn’t much that can be done without replacing your entire machine.

The first thing to do is to go to File>Project Settings>General. Set the Renderer to Mercury Playback Software Only. Then go to Sequence>Sequence Settings and uncheck the Composite in Linear Color checkbox.

It’s also worth disabling any additional video output you have from Premiere Pro. This is done by going to Premiere Pro CC>Preferences>Playback and unchecking the Enable Mercury Transmit option.

Audio

There are several issues to do with Audio outputs which in all honesty I’ve not gotten to the bottom of yet. The Adobe Engineers have a better understand of this but I posted a message on the Adobe Communities site a while back to no avail. I have found that as part of the diagnosis process, I will go through and change the audio outputs under Preferences>Audio Hardware. To see if by doing this I can regain any functionality. Sometimes this works.

Another trick can be to increase the I/O Buffer Size to increase the available buffer. As default this is 512 but I tend to find 1024 or 2048 samples runs smoother. You’ll usually notice this is the issue if the audio struggles to keep up with the playhead and you encounter pops and clicks over the top of your audio.

Files

Next up, consider the file format you’re working in. If you’re putting considerable strain on your machine, i.e. running multiple streams of raw R3D footage, it could be that your system can’t deal with it. I’d recommend knocking the resolution in the Program Window down to 1/4 or transcoding to proxies if it still struggles. I always run atMonitor on my system so I can constantly see what is going on at any point.

Lumetri Scopes

If during playback, your system slows right down and struggles to keep up and it’s not the clip resolution, there’s a possibility the Lumetri Scopes are slowing things down. As default they follow the playhead in realtime and it does pull considerable CPU (and possibly GPU) resources. Whilst it’s interesting to watch the scopes in realtime, it’s not always particularly useful unless you’re grading. I’d recommend keeping the Lumetri Scopes closed when you don’t need them.

Corruption

Lastly I wanted to get onto the issue of corruption in Premiere Pro projects. This is a hugely irritating and difficult to diagnose issue. I first encountered this issue two years ago whilst working on a multi-camera project I’d synced with PluralEyes (it turns out that Canon C300 cameras aren’t particularly good at keeping timecode…). At the time I found the project would gradually just stop working. It was really bizarre, as if it was getting ill and gradually dying. Playback on a single sequence would stop working and then eventually the entire project would stop. After losing a day or so of work, I manage to find a thread linking Premiere Pro project corruption to Red Giant’s PluralEyes 3, something they refutably deny.

Recently I ran in to a really bizarre issue again with a similar outcome. I’d upgraded to the latest PluralEyes 3.5 and kept up with latest updates but not really used it since the last mass corruption. Having got partway through a project, playback ceased to work in a particular sequence. This then spread to the entire project. I ran through my usual diagnosis steps detailed above but with no luck. After that I opened up a previous project I’d been working on and weirdly nothing would playback. Running through the logic in my head, the only conclusion I could come to, was that my new maxed out iMac 5K was royally f*cked. Not good for someone who makes a living out of using it.

What followed were two entire days of diagnosis with Adobe. One of the first things that the engineers would ask was, are you using PluralEyes on your system? Just to point out once again, Red Giant are still denying there is an issue with PluralEyes… I’d reply to the engineer with “Yes, but this isn’t about one project, this is all projects to which the majority of them don’t use PluralEyes”. 

In total I had 4 remote viewing session with Adobe with them going over my system step-by-step. Eventually this culminated in a 2 hour long phone call with a Senior Engineer. The final point of action the engineer said I could do was reinstall my entire system from scratch and see if the issue persisted. Whilst on the phone to him, I’d been doing my own tests. I found that opening the corrupted project on my laptop, would prevent other projects playing back on that machine. So in my mind, either the project was infected with a virus or corrupted. If it was corrupted, maybe it was corrupting the project media database or cache. I put this to him. His exact words were: “I’m not saying it’s not feasible, but I’m 99% sure this is not the case”. After terminating the call, I deleted my Media Cache and viola playback returned to my other projects at least. Unfortunately I couldn’t regain playback on the corrupted project file. The only way to recover a corrupted project is to export an XML of each sequence and import into a new project. Annoying but at least I regained use of my machine.

So Red Giant have told me they don’t believe that PluralEyes could cause this and they won’t be investigating the issue further. They’ve asked me to replicate the issue on a clean system before they’ll investigate further. Having lost 2 days work already, I politely declined their offer of doing what their engineers should be doing and instead wrote this blog on troubleshooting. I can’t prove this is purely down to PluralEyes, there is scope for a number of other issues within the system to cause this issue. What is undeniable though, is the fact that I work on at least 1 or 2 new projects each week, and in 3 years of using Premiere Pro I’ve only encountered this issue on the 2 occasions I’ve used PluralEyes. 

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Top tips for better titles on your videos

Top tips for better titles on your videos

It’s a little known fact that well designed titles/straps/lower-thirds/astons/whatever you want to call them, can increase the perceived production value of your video exponentially. Even if you’re not a whizz at After Effects, these tips should help.


Lower Third Design

 

  • Before you start, ensure you have your brand’s correct, up-to-date brand guidelines to start from. Often you’ll find these take away some of the tricky design decisions.

  • If time is tight on your edit (or you just like being organised), design your titles in advance and get approval from the client for them. Titles are the number one amendment clients will want to make.

  • Get it right - nothing looks worse to a client than you misspelling their name, their colleagues’ names or their company name. I always try to triple check against the notes I have to ensure this is correct. You’re not always going to get it right and I am definitely testament to that!

  • When interviewing subjects, I always get them to spell their name and their job titles’ out as no-one knows how to spell their name better than themselves! I’ll admit this isn’t always 100% accurate though as under-pressure, interviewees can spell their names wrong or pronounce some letters unclearly.

  • Start in After Effects - Easing and motion blur make a title look far more slick. Premiere Pro can ease but can’t motion blur (properly!). I like to design the bottom layer of graphics in After Effects, render out with alpha channel and import into Premiere Pro. Here I can then place the text above the base layer and transition it in over the top. Even a newbie to After Effects should be able to crack this. Here’s a tutorial on basic key framing and here’s a tutorial on adding motion blur.

  • Look at basic typography to make the titles look more premium. Things like good kerning and tracking, ensure that the letter-spacing is appeasing to the eyes. Knocking the letter spacing back to -1 to -2 (depending on the font obviously), makes it look much more premium. Never let characters overlap though.

  • Separate different elements in the titles using text-decoration (bold, underline, etc.), colours and case. I may for example, have the person’s name slightly larger in a darker colour and I’d then have their title in a slightly smaller font size and in uppercases.

  • Keep it simple - In the UK we tend to go for clear, easy to read graphics which do what they say on the tin (but nicely!). Try not to get too distracted with the American over-designed, over-animated graphic style which can jar with an English audience.


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