Manfrotto 394 (RC4) Quick Release system review

Video review of the Manfrotto 394 quick release plate system.

The Manfrotto 394 quick release plate system uses Low Profile 410PL plates which I’ve found to be more reliable and easier to use than the smaller 323/200PL RC2 system that comes as standard with smaller Manfrotto tripods and heads.

For use on my Glidetrack Shooter I modified the ball head seen in the video by removing a 323 plate that came fitted to it and attaching one of the 394 plates in it’s place.

The price for the 394 adapter and the 410 plate in the US is $46.95 at B&H. I was slightly out with the price in the video. Click here to buy them at B&H

In the UK you can buy them from Amazon.co.uk for around £35.

Canon releases 5D markII 2.03 Firmware

Update: Canon has updated the firmware to version 2.04 to fix a bug with audio recording levels using the C1 – C3 setting modes.

Get the 2.04 firmware here

The much anticipated 2.03 firmware for the Canon 5D was released today. As promised by canon it added the following new features…

1. Adds or changes the following movie frame rates.

NTSC:
1920×1080 : 30 fps (changed – actual 29.97 fps)
1920×1080 : 24 fps (added – actual 23.976 fps)
640×480 : 30 fps (changed – actual 29.97 fps)

PAL:
1920×1080 : 25 fps (added – actual 25.0 fps)
1920×1080 : 24 fps (added – actual 23.976 fps)
640×480 : 25 fps (added – actual 25.0 fps)

2. Adds a function for manually adjusting the sound recording level (64 levels).
3. Adds a histogram display (brightness or RGB) for shooting movies in manual exposure.
4. Adds shutter-priority AE mode (Tv) and aperture-priority AE (Av) mode to the exposure modes for shooting movies.
5. Changes the audio sampling frequency from 44.1 KHz to 48 KHz.
6. Fixes a phenomenon where communication between the camera and the attached lens is sometimes interrupted after manual sensor cleaning. (This phenomenon only affects units with Firmware Version 1.2.4.)

Frame rates: Being able to choose frame rates compatible with other camcorders and broadcast / delivery systems is standard across professional video cameras so having these new frame rate choices is a big help. There’s not much more to say about the frame rates really, they are essential options for a video shooter and it’s great that the 5D is finally free from it’s 30 fps shackles.

Manual Gain Control: Like the new frame rates this is another control that most professional videographers cannot live without so it makes the 5D markII that little bit more usable. Automatic Gain Control (AGC) can be a useful tool in certain circumstances but most of the time I prefer to dial in my audio levels manually. The 5D’s AGC is particularly aggressive which often results in unusable sound if recording in an environment where there are sudden loud noises followed by periods of low noise because the camera will over compensate resulting in the recorded audio being almost muted for the first few seconds after a loud noise.

Setting the manual recording mode is done in the 5D’s Liveview menu option page. Once manual gain is selected a pair of audio meters are displayed and the recording level can be adjusted in 64 increments. Unfortunately this is the only screen where you can see the recording level meters, this is normally something you want to keep an eye on whilst shooting, it’s a shame the recording levels can’t be monitored during recording or on the standard liveview display.

Histogram: I love having a histogram visible whilst shooting, this is something that I became very used to on the EX1 and miss sorely when shooting on an HDSLR. The histogram allows to have an immediate understanding of the dynamic range being captured in your shot and is a big help in exposing correctly.

The histogram is displayed on the 5D by cycling through the info display options using the info button. Unfortunately Canon have put it on the same info page that displays all the menu settings on the left side, that page is extremely cluttered with information you don’t really need whilst composing a shot which makes it hard to leave the histogram displayed.

AV & TV Auto Exposure Modes: I can’t think of many times when I’ve set any video camera to adjust exposure automatically. I’m sure there are some shooters who rely on auto exposure in situations where they have little time to think, for me though seeing exposure change as the camera moves is a sure sign of a consumer camera in action so these new recording modes are not something I expect to make use of. If however a situation arrises where I need to let the camera adjust exposure itself it’s good to know that the Shutter speed and ISO can be locked down allowing the camera to only have control over the aperture.

Audio sampling frequency: I haven’t really noticed any difference in the sound quality but the numbers are higher so this has to be a good thing… doesn’t it?

So overal this is a really useful firmware update, Canon are definitely listening to their customers and allowing more control over the video features of their cameras. It would be nice to have the option to display the new tools when recording but at least we have them available.

Interestingly this new firmware only included video features, considering that the 5D markII is first and foremost a stills camera that just goes to show how dedicated Canon are to making their tools work well for us videographers.

GoPro first test

Something special happened today that I look forward to every year, it was the day when my bike came out to play for the first time after spending the winter in hibernation.

Apart from the usual pampering that the bike normally gets before it’s first outing of the year I also set up my new GoPro cameras for they’re first test run. One was mounted permanently on top of my helmet and the other was moved around the bike a bit to see how it coped with vibration and shock.

Both cameras were recording at 720/60p which although is not the best quality option does allow you to create nice slow-mo footage by confirming it to 25 fps in cinema tools.

The only problem I had with the cameras themselves were minor, firstly the lenses kept fogging up, I’m not sure if this was due to it being pretty cold but I had to keep stopping and opening the waterproof housings to let the lenses de-mist. I also didn’t have the angle of the helmet camera right, I’ll correct that next time!

Generally the biggest weakness is rolling shutter which results in a lot of wobble where there’s vibration. It’s not impossible though, I’d be happy using at lease some of the shots.

Below is a quick video showing a sample of the results, nothing has been colour corrected, it’s just straight out of the cameras and converted to ProRes so that I could edit it in final cut. Note the flying cat basket towards that tries to take me out towards the end! Don’t worry, I think it was empty!

The music is by one of my all time favourite bands ‘Killing Joke’ Click here to buy it on iTunes

GoPro HD HERO Cameras

The pair of GoPro cameras I ordered for the Harley-Davidson documentary arrived today and they look like they’re going to be pretty handy. Because I wanted a range of mounting options I decided to go for one HD Helmet Hero pack and one HD Motor Sports Hero pack plus a bunch of accessories including four additional batteries, a handlebar mount and a suction mount.

These little cameras are supplied in waterproof housings and considering their small size actually record pretty nice quality video. of course it’s nothing like the quality you would expect of a 5D mark II, but then even though the 5D is smaller than my EX1 I still don’t want it on top of the helmet!

I’ll write some more about these cool little cameras soon when I get out and test them on my bike, but just to give you a rough idea of their capabilities they can shoot in 1080/3op and even 720/60p which should be great for doing slow motion. They have an incredibly wide lens which is even more extreme when shooting in the 720p mode.

I was faced with a slight problem in that they do not come with a charger unit and require charging via USB. This is great under normal circumstances but I didn’t plan on taking my laptop on the road so I had to find an alternative solution. I decided to give my iPhone charger a whirl as that uses a USB connector and it seems to do the trick just fine. I have two of those so problem solved.

If you’re interested in trying them out for yourself B&H Photo Video sells the whole range.

Here’s a really cool example of what these things can do.

Video by Alan Fendrich courtesy of vimeo.com

St Tropez via BMW

Today I’ve finally confirmed my vehicle for the Harley documentary I’m shooting in May. I had planned to take a KTM adventure but after further research and a few comfort tests I’ve decided to take a BMW GSA 1200. I’ve confirmed that the bike I’m hiring will be the brand new 2010 model with a full pannier / tank bag setup so it’s just a case of figuring out what kit I can fit on / in it now.