Using SpyderLensCal for Video Focus Control

Datacolor’s SpyderCheckr is used to check the auto-focus on still cameras, and to micro-adjust the auto-focus on cameras with micro-adjustment controls in their in-camera menu. However, there are other uses for LensCal. This article describes how to use it to assist with focus setting in video, TV, and cinema capture workflows.


SpyderLensCal showing Depth and Center of Focus

Videography is based on manual focus methods, but SpyderLensCal can still be useful for video capture. Lets start by considering how focusing is done with a video camera. Video focus is manual, and occurs by rotating the focus ring on the camera lens, or manipulating a “follow” device connected to the focus ring.


Geared Ring added to a DSLR Lens, Follow Gear on Far Side

The results of these adjustments are viewed on the LCD on the back of the camera, or on a portable video reference display screen attached to the camera framework. These screen range from small to tiny, so it can be difficult to determine focus on such screens. It is possible to zoom the view on the camera-back display, and sometimes on the reference display, to enlarge a small part of the screen to more effectively check focus. A larger video reference display is sometimes used as well, either in real time, or with a delay, but these screens are not available to the cameraman adjusting the focus controls.


Reference Display mounted on a Camera

Here’s how one or more SpyderLensCal units can improve the accuracy of focus with a video camera. Lets envision a shot where the camera remains stationary, no pan, no zoom, but the focus moves from a glass with lipstick on it in the foreground of the shot, to the face of a woman wearing the same color lipstick in the middle ground. This configuration simplifies the description, as other adjustments to the lens or camera are not needed in this scenario.

To determine the ideal focus for the beginning of the shot, a LensCal is placed on the table next to the glass, and its target plane is aligned with the surface on the glass with the lipstick stain. The camera is is then focussed on the LensCal target, and can be checked, either at full size on a large remote reference display, or by zooming in on the small target bullseye and sloped scale on the camera LCD. The sweet spot in the intentionally shallow focal range will register on the LensCal scale, and the sharpness of the focus will be clear on the target. Adjustments can be made as needed. This position can then be marked on the follow-focus device, or noted on the focus ring. Cinema lenses, with their longer throw, will increase the level of precision possible.

Next a LensCal unit on a light stand beside the actress in the middle ground will be focused on, repeating the process of checking the focus, and marking the correct location. An advanced follow-focus tool with hard stops available at each end would make this process even simpler. Now both LensCal units are removed from the set, and the shot is made, using the start and finish references to assure accurate focus at each end. This technique can also be used for single focus shots, but is particularly useful when there are multiple functions occurring in the shot; being able to remove two variables allows the cameraman to “focus” on the other functions.

So, don’t leave your SpyderLensCal in the dark when shooting video, get it out and put it to use checking the focus on your shallow-focus shots, and improve the sharpness of your video.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2013. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Using SpyderCheckr Camera Calibrations with Video

Datacolor’s SpyderCheckr produces color correction presets for Lightroom, ACR, and Phocus. These presets are typically applied to still images processed in these applications. Now that Lightroom 4 can catalog, clip, and even make basic adjustments to your video, the question of using SpyderCheckr Lightroom Presets to correct color for your video cameras arises. This possibility is particularly interesting when it comes to adjusting video capture from different types of cameras, such as GoPro cameras and DSLRs, or different types of DSLRs, to match their color as closely as possible.

The answer is: yes, it is possible to apply an existing SpyderCheckr preset, from a still image shot with your camera, to video shot with the same camera. However, since that preset was most likely shot in RAW, and certainly as a still image, its best to start from scratch, and shoot the SpyderCheckr target in a video clip, to capture the actual video workflow for color correction.


Video of The SpyderCheckr, to Color Correct the Camera

You can then capture a still frame from the video, and process that still frame the same way you would any SpyderCheckr target shot.


The Capture Frame Option, to Grab a Still Frame from the Video

The resulting Preset can then be applied to a still image, and by selecting that still image and one or more video clips, the Sync Settings button can then be used to apply the color corrections to video clips.


The Sync Settings Option, used to Apply the Calibration to Videos

The dialog box shown below will appear, showing which of the Lightroom Development Settings can be applied to video. Be sure the Color Adjustments box is checked, so that the HSL Adjustments from SpyderCheckr will be applied to the video clips.


The Synchronization Dialog Box, Where the Settings are Selected

Once the clips have been color corrected for the camera they have been shot with, they can be exported from Lightroom for processing in any other Video Editing application you use. Be sure to check the Include Video Files checkbox. Versions of Lightroom 4, up to 4.4 appear to have a bug when Video Export is set to Original in Lightroom 4. If your video clips appear to render instantly, without taking the necessary time to apply the corrections to each frame, it may be necessary to choose another Export format in order to have your Lightroom Cuts and Adjustments (including your Color Correction) applied to your video clips.
It may also be possible to force the edits to render, even in Original format, if you first flag the video clips. However, the flag icons are conditional in Lightroom 4 Library mode, and disappear when a video is the selected item. So instead, set the Painter tool to Flag, and “spray” the videos you wish to flag, so that a flag icon appears in the upper right of each in grid and filmstrip mode. These flagged videos should (this may be a conditional bug, so no guarantees) render with edits in the Original format.

The Video Format section of the Export Dialog

A future article will focus on the process of tuning output from different cameras for use in the same video project.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website:   Return to Blog’s Main Page

FOTOfusion Public Presentation: Video for Photographers, Friday Jan 25, 3:45 PM Hall 616

Photo courtesy of Samyang Lenses

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!

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

Final Cut Pro X and Your Existing Mac Pro Computer


Final Cut Pro X graphic courtesy of Apple inc.

Starting Out

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.

Other Factors

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.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page