If you are attending FOTOfusion, at the Palm Beach Photo Centre, or if you are in the Palm Beach area, please join me for a one hour presentation on video for photographers. This session runs from 3:45 to 4:45 on Friday, Jan 24, and will cover basic info on cameras, lenses, tripods, lights, software, computers, and displays, for photographers who are considering moving into motion work. Color management for video will also be discussed. This will not be a highly technical session, so feel free to attend even if you don’t know what a CODEC is, or why you might need one. This session is open to the public, so all you need to do is show up at the West Palm Beach Community Center (same building as the library), and ask directions to 616. I hope to see you there!
Mac users interested in trying out video editing often start with iMovie, but given the much reduced price of Final Cut Pro with the recent Final Cut Pro X version (down from four digits to $299) it’s not long before its worth considering an upgrade to Final Cut. However, while Apple has made upgrades to main processors and video cards in the Mac Pro tower over the last several years, thats about all it has done to it. This means that many people who are running advanced imaging apps are still using Mac Pros of vintages from 2006 to 2009. These older Mac Pros are chugging along when it comes to still image work, and unless Apple decides to update the Mac Pro in a big way, these users are likely to continue using these towers until something catastrophic happens. That might take the form or a post-warranty board failure; but it also might also mean a key application that will not run on those older machines.
Set Up Costs
The bar for entry to pro video editing often does not consist only of the cost of a video editor. There tend to be post processing effects packages, audio and music software, and an array of hardware purchases to be factored in as well. With Final Cut Pro X and a copy of Apple’s iLife, much of that can be put off indefinitely; as a fair amount of post-processing is now built right into FCPX, and basic sound and music work can be done in iLife’s Garage Band. So it would be tempting to think that the single $299 outlay for FPCX would be the only outlay standing between you and the simplest of the advanced video editing systems.
Video Card Issues
With a newer Mac Pro, with at least an ATI Radeon 5770 video card, that may well be true. But with the 2006 to 2009 units, the included video cards, most often the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, lack the ability to run Final Cut Pro X. However, these are towers, and the virtue of towers, even Mac towers, which are less modular than other types, is that a new video card can be installed. It should still be possible to purchase an ATI Radeon 5770 card from the Apple Online Store for a price in the range of $249.
This will take care of the video incompatibility that will otherwise make it impossible to even buy or download FCPX on such a computer; though it nearly doubles the cost of entry for installing FCPX. But is it the only factor you need to consider? Not, really: communications protocols are another issue. After all, video requires lots of storage, and internal drives might meet your still imaging needs, but they will definitely not be sufficient for any serious video work.
Ports, Ports, Ports
The older Mac Pros offer slow, but convenient, USB2 ports. They do not offer USB3, which is very useful for external drives for use with still imaging. The “fast” protocol for older Mac Pros is FireWire, often offering both FW400 and FW800. FireWire 800 is fast enough for video transfers, if external FW800 drives are optimized drives that run at ratings close to what the protocol can manage. So anyone considering doing video work on an older Mac Pro will have to plan on purchasing FireWire 800 storage large enough for the amount of video they will be working with.
New Investments in Old Technology
However, is investing in FireWire drives at this point in time a clever idea? Drive prices are dropping again, now that shortage from floods in Thailand have been dealt with, and FireWire format drives are a particularly good deal, because it is now an end-of-life format. This is because newer Macs have moved to Thunderbolt for their fast data transfer. Convertors to run FW800 drives from newer Thunderbolt Macs are not expensive, in fact, at prices like $29, they are far less expensive than most Thunderbolt cables. So an investment in FireWire storage now will continue to be usable in the near future. It may not be ideal at a later date, but given the penalty cost of investing in Thunderbolt peripherals at this time, it actually makes a certain amount of sense to continue investing in FireWire for the time being.
Why Talk Thunderbolt?
Thunderbolt is not an option for these older Mac Pros, so why is it even entering the conversation? The simple answer is that its always necessary to try to sum up the total investment in a technology, such as a move to Final Cut Pro X, to compare that investment’s cost, and its forward compatibility, with other options. In this case, the other options that would be most practical would be either the latest iMac or a 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro; either may actually be more powerful than your older Mac Pro, and both would move you immediately into the Thunderbolt world.
Make Your Own Calculations
It will be necessary to do your own practicality analysis and math on the cost of a new iMac versus the receding hope of a significantly improved Mac Pro in the near future, versus the viability of doing your video editing on a MacBook; not to mention the possibility that your older Mac Pro tower may not last as long as you might want it to. Any way you choose to go, the cost of admission is likely to exceed the $299 sticker price for Final Cut Pro.
On Tuesday, Nov 20, I will be presenting an introductory webinar on Videography and Color Management for Video, intended for photographers who are considering moving into motion shooting. David Saffir will co-host this webinar, sponsored by Datacolor, as part of the Datacolor webinar series which David and I have been hosting this year.
You can read more about this webinar and register here.
There will be a Datacolor Spyder4Pro given away to a participant at this webinar, and there are likely to be some excellent specials offered as well. Sign up soon to reserve your space; these webinars have been increasingly popular and there is a risk of this one filling up.
Cinema Lenses; What’s the Big Deal?
Standard DSLR lenses of the type you already own for your DSLR cameras work quite well for shooting video, both with DSLR bodies, and with the next step up: Cinema cameras such as those from Black Magic and Camera Red, if the lens mounts are compatible. However there are also dedicated cinema lenses designed specifically for shooting video. This may leave you wondering just what is unique about these lenses, and why might you consider acquiring one or more of them.
A Short List; and Likely to Get Shorter
The list of advantages of Cinema lenses over their DSLR brethren is relatively short, and the justifications may sound minimal as well; but they may add up to justify adding one or more dedicated cinema lenses to your collection, if you find yourself shooting an increasing amount of motion.
The Inverse List
Keep in mind that there is a flip side to this coin: dedicated cinema lenses may not be as convenient for still photography, and may best be thought of as motion-specific. And a final caveat: as the major DSLR manufacturers move forward, they will be keeping their eyes ever more closely on the motion category, so newer lenses from them are likely to offer increasing optimization for video work, while still being eminently usable for still imaging; so with the exception of any areas where there is an unresolvable conflict between the two, future DSLR lenses may well be optimized for both.
The adjustment rings on DSLR lenses are typically ridged, for positive grip when rotating them. However those ridges are not usually in the form of standard 32 pitch geared rings. This means attaching any type of follow-focus or follow-zoom device will require trusting a friction band (read: rubber band) or installation of a third-party geared ring for use with standard motion rigs. Cinema lenses tend to come with gear rings already in place. It will be interesting to see if any of the major DSLR manufacturers come out with finger friendly rings with a soft-surfaced 32 pitch gear ring as the standard ring on dual purpose lenses, or at least provide an easy add-on geared ring system.
Most DSLR lenses do not offer an aperture adjustment ring. And not all cameras will communicate with all internal aperture adjustment methods. Moreover, in the rare instance where a shot requires, or at least would benefit from, changing the aperture during the shot, a lens without an aperture ring won’t allow this. Also, even when DSLR lenses include an aperture ring, it typically incorporates “clicks” meaning it only offers incremental settings, on a scale such as a third of an f:stop. Cinema lenses often offer “unclicked” rings, allowing for exactly the setting desired, even between typical settings. And the lack of “clicks” is also important to smoothly adjusting the aperture during a shot.
Cinema lenses are designed with full manual adjustment of functions; DSLR lenses often use internal, automated, methods of making adjustments that can interfere with cinema uses – especially those uses that require adjustment during the shot.
Longer Throw; Greater Precision
Cinema lenses often offer a longer throw; meaning the ring rotates farther around the lens, sometimes close to a full revolution. This might not be convenient for adjusting a DSLR lens quickly for still shooting, but allows for greater precision in focusing a cinema lens for motion work.
Lock to Lock
Many DSLR lenses continue to rotate even when they pass the optics minimum or maximum points; they have no hard-stop at the end-points. This means that adjusting past the end point invalidates any fixed points that may have been set in between. So there are no absolute locations in the ring rotation matched to a specific zoom length, focus plane, or aperture setting on the ring. Dead stops at each end on cinema lenses eliminate this issue, and allow a selected value to be returned to easily, by rotating the same amount in the reverse direction.
On DSLR lenses markings are often on the top of the lens, and oriented towards the body; this makes sense if a photographer is most likely to pivot the camera up, and look at the settings from behind the camera. However, in video rigs the camera is often fixed in place on a fairly large rig for shoulder “steady-cam” holding, or on a large tripod-based rig. In such situations, the most convenient way to view the lens settings are usually from the side and horizontally. So it’s no surprise that cinema lenses tend to be marked horizontally, from the side; instead of perpendicularly on the top. A small difference that adds up over time.
F-Stops and T-Stops
Another difference between Still and Motion lenses is that Cinema lenses are often marked in T-Stops, not F-Stops. F is for Focal, T is for Transmission. It can be thought of as the same as the equivalent F value, but normalized for whatever light the lens in question fails to transmit. So two different lenses marked with F-Stops may produce slightly brighter or darker results, if one transmits more light than the other. For T-marked lenses, any two should match, even if their transmission ratios differ. This is handy when shooting a scene with multiple cameras using different lenses.
Varifocal Versus Parfocal; Zoom Lenses Only
With zoom lenses, DSLR lenses tend to lose focus as zoom is changed, which requires refocusing (or continuous autofocus adjustment) to capture the same item in focus at differing zooms. For motion, this is a problem, as it is a common type of shot to keep a person in focus while zooming in for a closeup, or out for a context shot. Most Cinema lenses are designed to be parfocal, meaning they retain focus while zooming.
When the focus of a lens is changed, the apparent zoom changes. With DSLR lenses this effect tends to be quite noticeable, as it is not critical for still imaging. For expensive Cinema lenses, the effect is less apparent. Lower cost Cinema lenses may not improve this effect.
Most other variations are specific to one or another lens, including issues such as sharpness, speed, bokeh, and build quality, so it is not possible to generalize about them. Even price does not always lean in one direction; while there are many cinema lenses that cost more than standard DSLR lenses, it is also possible to find dedicated cinema lenses which cost less than their DSLR counterpart, but which still match many performance features, since the lens is targeted to that specific use.
The information in this article should assist you in determining if you are ready to move up to dedicated cinema lenses; or if you are best served by multipurpose lenses that also work well for your still shooting. Keep revisiting the issue (and possibly this article) as your motion work increases, to decide when, or if, you are ready to make a move to dedicated glass.