Hawaiki AutoGrade for Final Cut Pro X

As I was making some final edits to a 10-minute long video project, an ad for the new Hawaiki AutoGrade color correction plug-in for Final Cut Pro X (Through Noise Industries FXFactory for $29.00) popped up in my Facebook feed. Normally, I just ignore these FB ads, but this one received my full attention. I was just about ready to do the final color correction on my project and I was not thrilled with having to use the limited color correction tools in FCPX (yes I’m pretty creeped out that Facebook knew what I was about to do.)

autograde_effectsI love editing video stories in FCPX, but the one thing I gnash my teeth over is the funky way the program color grades video. Yes, it gets the job done for most projects, but it is not intuitive and has many feature limitations compared to other editing programs like Adobe Premiere.

The one feature I miss the most from my days working with the Final Cut Pro 7’s three-way color corrector was the white eyedropper. Look for something in a video clip that was white with a colorcast and click it. Instant cast remover. Many times that is all the color correction I would need to do. It worked best for tight deadlines where I needed to post a news video quickly.

With AutoGrade, the eyedropper returns to FCPX as well as a slew of other features that will make color correcting your video a breeze.

Learning how to use the plug-in took about as much time as watching the excellent provided video tutorial. Once I got rolling, I color corrected all my clips, about 50 in all, in about two hours. My workflow went like this:

In the effects browser, I clicked the global adjustment picker and chose something neutral in my photo, and then I did the same with the white and black pickers. When done, I turned on “ Enabled Auto Balance” to show the correction. What’s really sweet is that each of the pickers has a slider that allows you to dial back an adjustment. This made fine-tuning simple and fast.

With my video scope set to Waveform/Luma I set my contrast of each clip. In “Manual Adjustment” I would start with my black exposure and pull it down so that the waveform kissed the bottom of the scale. I did the same with the “Whites Exposure” but this time I pulled the slider until the waveform touched the top of the scale. If needed, I would also tweak the “Mids” slider.  Finally, a bump in saturation and maybe a fine adjustment with the cool/warm slider and I was done.

I found with this plug-in, I never needed to use Final Cut Pro X’s color corrector. The only draw back I found is there is more clicking with a plug-in.  You also have to drag the filter onto each clip so that it loads into the effects browser. Still, the program is feature rich and really enhances FCPX color correction limitations. Until Apple makes an upgrade to the its color correction tools, Hawaiki AutoGrade is a perfect alternative.

Part 2: DSLR camera accessories-image stabilization

In this part two examination of DSLR accessories, I look ways to outfit your camera to ensure stability of your video (see part one on the Juicedlink audio interface.)

I shoot primarily news video for my newspaper’s website using a Nikon D3s as a video camera. It captures only 720p HD video, not 1080p of the newer models, but it’s resolution perfect for most online delivery.

One of the issues I’ve had as I transitioned from shooting with a Sony EX1 video camera to now using a DSLR, was the stability of my video. When handholding a DSLR during a shoot, I founds it almost impossible to capture stable video. Because I couldn’t put the camera up to my eye when shooting in live view, the shaky-cam effect from holding the camera unsupported out in front of me was really pronounced. It made me realize  how much the optical stabilization on most traditional video cameras work to minimize camera vibration.

In putting my DSLR video camera kit together, I looked for the best lens I could find that would not only give me the zoom focal lengths I needed, but would also have built-in image stabilization. My final choice was the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 VR lens.

VR (vibration reduction) is Nikon’s version of the Canon’s IS (Image Stabilization.) Vibration Reduction (VR) systems in DSLR camera lenses compensate for image blur caused by small, involuntary movements from unsupported cameras.

I can attest that VR works. I’ve seen and shot a lot of handheld DSLR video that was so shaky it was unwatchable. Switching VR on will not make your footage look like it was shot on a tripod, but it will smooth it out considerably. In my video below, I used the Nikon 24-120mm with VR for the first time. I was pleased with the results. VR  allowed to  move with my subjects without encountering the jarring shake of typical handheld footage. I was most impressed with the clip of me running with the subject. No way would this look this smooth without VR.

The next accessory I use for stabilizing my DSLR video is the wonderful  Zacuto Z-Finder optical viewfinder that I attach to my camera’s rear viewing monitor. This allows me to press the eyepiece against the bridge of my shootin’ eye, which helps stabilize the camera–especially the up and down movement you get when holding the camera out in front of you. This, paired with the lens VR, really makes for some excellent looking handheld footage.

Finally, I can’t stress enough about having a solid tripod handy on EVERY shoot. I always try to use a tripod for long interviews. This allows me to spend time looking my subject in the eye, rather than hiding behind the camera monitor.

The best video tripods are ones that have a fluid head, which allows you to do smooth pan and tilt movements. I have three that I have access to, from small (light) to large (heavy.) The one thing that I have come to love about shooting with a tripod is that I can frame a shot and then shoot a three-shot sequence of wide, medium and tight ten second clips. When I edit, I have three different views to choose from—and best of all, they are all rock steady.

I could go on about camera rigs and such, but in my type of work, they are a bit much for what I do. As a one-man band, I find keeping it simple is the best hedge against missing shots and moments. One of the things that I don’t want to do is create the three-headed monster camera rig that would draw too much attention to myself.

In part three, I will look at the Zacuto Finder up close and a round-up of the other necessary accessories to outfit your DSLR to make it a bad ass video camera.

The Nikon D3s is, like, WOW!

My new Nikon D3s arrived last Friday and I’m still kicking the tires.

This camera is one bad boy. Yesterday, I set my ISO at 4000 and left it there for three photo assignments. ISO 4000 looks like 800 did on my vintage Nikon D2h  of just a few years ago.

My newspaper has always been a Nikon shop. Though I was tempted by all the low-light Canon camera offerings of yore, management never blinked or gave my informed blathering much acknowledgement to make the switch. Now I’m glad they didn’t listen to me.  This camera kicks! In the past, when I needed to spin the ISO dial up to, say, ISO 3200, I would often regret the decision later. Noise in digital files looks horrible.

This camera easily handled 4000, and 6400 ISO. I haven’t needed to go higher on the account that I don’t need 500th of a second for an environmental portrait.

Take a look at this shot I did of my daughter Brenna, right, and her friend Shea.

I shot it on my living room floor with just lamplight at 6400 ISO in RAW. I tweaked the color to get the skin tones right and made just basic Adobe CS5 RAW converter adjustments. If I had shot this with my D2h, it would have noise the size of gravel.

This camera will open many new low-light avenues for me and any other shooter lucky enough to get their hands on one.  I had to go through Nikon Professional Services to find one. I’m told they are as elusive as unicorns.

The next thing for me to tackle is the whole DSLR video learning curve. I have shot video for five years. My Sony Z-1U and XDCAM EX-1 have served me well.  Lately, I’ve been feeling I’m on the outside looking in as the Canon 5D Mk II has dominated  the video gear spotlight.

Mostly, I suspect, for the look of the files coming out of these cameras. Shallow depth-of-field is all the rage, but at what cost? Audio is a DSLR camera’s Achilles heel. The contraptions DP’s and video producers are building to make these cameras work gives me pause.

If I was the subject of a story and someone came at me with a steering wheel contraption laden with mics, lights and other paraphernalia,  I’d probably freeze up like a deer in headlights.

So my toe dipping starts with the limited video capabilities of the D3s. It has been much maligned for not shooting in the higher resolution of 1920p that Canon cameras do. This doesn’t really concern me. The test files I’ve shot so far look better than anything that comes out of my XDCAM. The huge full-frame sensor in the D3s makes shooting in the dark a breeze. Its 720p file size is just about right for the web-based video storytelling I do.  I have to compress the hell out of the videos I shoot, so the huge files from a 5D Mk II will only slow my edit down. I’m not planning to shoot any Hollywood movies, so I’m cool with the Nikon’s smaller file size for now. Of course, in a few months, my camera will probably be rendered obsolete by the rumored Nikon D4. Such is life of a techno geek.

Final Cut Pro’s Voice Over Tool is a Time Saver

recordIt took me forever, but I finally tried out Final Cut Pro’s voice over tool yesterday for a daily video I did about a 100 people who lined up at a hardware store to buy snow shovels. The record 60-inches of snow that has fallen in the last month in Spokane, has made snow shovels scarcer then George Bush is on the national scene. 

The voice over recording feature in Final Cut Pro is one I had almost forgotten about. Now that I have started to do more narration in my videos, I realized my present workflow was really inefficient. I had been using an Edirol -R9 digital recorder connected to condenser mic–a Rode NT3.  After recording a script with four or five takes, I would import the audio files into Final Cut via USB from the recorder. It was all very time consuming.

I’m still trying to get the hang of writing a video script.  I usually edit my video in a linear fashion, stopping to add narration when needed. I know this goes against the TV news model of recording the entire script and then quickly laying the b-roll and cutaways on top of the audio. I found the voice over tool is perfect for my editing style.

Here’s how it works. My newspaper bought a cheap USB audio mixer (it cost about $120 bucks) a while ago when we were kind of playing with podcasts. Since we gave that fad up, the mixer was just gathering dust. I rescued it and hooked it up to my Mac. I plugged in my Rode NT3 mic in via XLR cable, turned the power on and was good to go.

In my shovel video story, I would drop some edited b-roll clips on the timeline, then place my play head where I wanted to start my voice over. I went to: Tools>Voice Over to open the voice over tool. It was pretty simple from then on. I clicked the red record button and got a visual and audio countdown before the recording started. It automatically backs the play head up five seconds for the countdown.  I read my short script and when done, hit the space bar to stop recording. The audio clip then appeared in my timeline right where I had placed the play head.  I clicked into the timeline and listened to the clip.  If I hated it, I’d just hit delete it and do another take. 

Some things to remember: You’ll want to make sure you have video clips on the timeline because the voice over tool won’t record on a blank timeline. Also, it won’t record past to end of the last clip or a blank spot between two clips on the timeline.

Update: Peter Saliva adds this even better tip for recording without video on the timeline:

“Another trick you can try when using the voice over tool: set an in and out point in your time line where no media exists, for say 2 minutes. Then you have established a duration in which your voice over can be recorded and you don’t need to have media present. You can record multiple takes without the hassle of muting or disabling additional audio tracks with other media.”

Final Cut Pro’ s voice over tool is going to make doing narration much easier for me.  Now, if I could just learn to write better scripts…

Cool video shot with the Canon 5D Mark II

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Update: David shares his experience shooting with the Canon 5D MKII

Photojournalist David Stephenson with the Lexington Herald-Leader got a hold of a Canon 5D Mark II and shot a wonderful video with it. Said Stephenson on a Facebook post:

Here’s a first edit of a video shot with the new 5DMKII DSLR from Canon. It was a good test – crappy, low light, wireless mic. Mostly handheld (but tripod on the interviews) and shot all with the kit lens, 24-105mm f/4 IS. I’m sold. Goodbye XH-A1.

What I want  know David is how easy was it to edit the files? Was framing and handling easy? How about focusing? I really like the shallow depth-of-field–it gives the video a film-like feel. Nice work! Also kudos to the narrator Amy Wilson.

Frame grab workflow from the Sony XDCAM EX-1

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From my last post, Matt Dial and Peter Houppi asked to see some frame grabs from my new Sony XDCAM EX-1.
brenna
On Sunday I shot some video of fall color and my daughter, freckles and all, Brenna. The day was cloudy and the light was low contrast.

Here was my workflow:

Transferred the clips into Final Cut Pro 6’s browser via “Log and Transfer.” It took only about 20 seconds to convert two minutes of video.

Loaded a clip into the viewer. Set an in and out point, then dropped the clip onto my timeline.

Navigated to the frame I wanted, then made a “freeze frame” by going to>Modify>Make Freeze Frame.

The freeze frame automatically loads into the viewer. I placed it on the timeline and set an in and out point. I double clicked the still frame clip to load back into the viewer. Then went to: Sequence>Render all.  Make sure “Full” is checked
Render out the clip (Command R)

Now export the freeze frame

Go to File>Export>Using Quicktime Conversion
Under format use “Still”
Under “Options” use “Photoshop”

Click “Options” and use “Best Depth” (I’m guessing here. There is a “millions of color” option, but I went with the default Best Depth.)

Name the file and export to your desktop.

Open in Photoshop and work the file like any digital still photo. The photo open as 5.93 meg file.

Some things I’ve noticed:

In Quicktime Conversion, don’t set the export to jpg. It adds compression jaggies to the frame grab.

Adding a light unsharp mask to the frame grab really brings out the detail.

I tried using David Leeson’s Voodoo Tool with ok results, but found my method looked as good without the upsizing to a 67 meg file.

If anybody else has suggestions for getting the best out of a fame grab do share…

The Sony XDCAM EX-1 is bitchin’

ex-1

About two weeks before the massive layoffs at The Spokesman-Review, a box from B+H Camera and Video arrived in my office. My excitement was like that of a five-year-old opening a Christmas gift. I gingerly lifted my new video camera—a Sony PMW XDCAM EX-1—from the box. I had been pining for this camera since it was released last year. Thankfully the capital purchase gods favored me this year–or maybe as the dark layoff clouds gathered– they were  just foretelling my moving out of management and  back into the photo department.

I digress. This is one bitchin’ video camera. And it’s a camera that I think could be a game changer for larger newspapers producing advanced video storytelling. The EX-1 is about the size of my Sony Z1U. It is a bit heavier and has enough extra buttons on it to keep me reading the manual on a constant basis. This camera is more pro than consumer. It has a feature list that that you’ll find more on the boat anchor cameras that our TV news shooting brothers and sisters use. The EX-1 features:

  • An easy to use manual iris ring
  • Separate manual focus and zoom rings
  • Uncompressed audio capture
  • A high quality 14X lens
  • Three 1/2-inch CMOS sensors

But what is the game changer you say? Well, It’s in the cards. This camera is tapeless. It captures to SxS Pro   (S by S) memory cards. It’s a new Sony developed format that fits in the narrow V.34 slot in the MacBook Pros and in newer PC laptops. These cards are wicked fast. Pop a 16-gig card full of an hour’s worth of hi-def video into your laptop and use Final Cut Pro’s Log and Transfer feature to convert the video into and editable format (.mp4.) In about nine minutes you can have all your clips in your browser and start rocking your edit quickly. The best part about using Log and Transfer is that you can convert and start editing your a-roll interview file first. While you’re laying your a-roll on the timeline the other clips are converting in the background. That was something you couldn’t do with tape capture. What this means is that you can start editing a breaking news story in seconds.

Time has always been the stickler with video production. By minimizing the capture time your productivity goes way up. Editing EX-1 video is just like editing HDV. You should have an Intel Core Duo based laptop or multi-core desktop with at least 4 gigs of ram. But that is really becoming the standard on any new computer purchase now. Also, Adobe Premire and Avid video editing programs now support the XDCAM format.

The other benefits of the EX-1 are that it shoots in progressive mode. This is not the highly compressed interlaced video that is HDV. It is true HD 1920 X 1080 video. Its quality is stunning on a HD monitor. For the frame grab crowd, this camera captures great stills when you need it to. OK, granted video frames are not up the color depth standards of a Canon 1D Mark III, but for newspaper reproduction, I’d be amazed if you could really tell the difference.

The cost of this camera right now is steep. It will set you back about $6500 and comes with an 8-gig card. A 16-gig card will cost you $800 bucks more. (The camera has two SxS slots.) Add wireless and shotgun mics, an extra battery and your looking at $8700.00 to get you started. I am hoping Sony will let the XDCAM format trickle down into the prosumer cameras. The current AVCHD tapeless format is slow and cumbersome to work with at times.

The day after my EX-1 arrived, Canon announced the 5D Mark II. I will admit it gave me pause. After shooting video last week with a new Nikon D90, I am confident that a full-featured video camera is still needed—a least for advanced video storytellers.

Now that I am back in a producer roll, I am looking forward to time behind the EX-1. It is forcing me to shoot more like a Lenslinger would. From now on, autofocus is for the point and shoot set. And yes—the tripod is going to be my best friend.