To fully utilize the Pilotfly H1+ 3-axis stabilizer you really have to invest some effort in learning its features as well as its support software. And, in the process you have to read between the lines and take care not to break anything. As I delved into my H1+ I discovered that it’s all too easy to make a change that can end up disabling your device. My failure to heed the warning below led to a week of downtime with my H1+.
I recently decided to switch from Carbonite to Acronis True Image as my backup solution. I had been using Carbonite for several years and it has saved my system on several occasions. However, as I’ve previously written, I’ve had problems with both its functionality and the user interface. Recently, I upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and was hoping to use Carbonite to assist with the transition. Frequently, when I reinstall Windows (something I do once or twice a year) I’ll find that there are files somewhere on my C: drive that I forgot to backup before reinstalling Windows. (Almost all of my data is on other drives but Windows and some apps insist on storing preferences, customizations and other info on the C: drive.)
Here’s a video I shot and edited for Orange County for Climate Action this week. This is from a rally in Orange, CA which was one of dozens across the United States that were organized by People’s Climate Movement. This video consists mainly of excerpts from short, impromptu interviews I did with the rally participants.
I love my Lumix GH4 but I hate Panasonic’s customer support. I recently discovered a very noticeable spot that appears in some images & videos. After an initial phone conversation a Panasonic support technician recommended that I send the camera in for warranty repair work. I did that and, after nearly a month, I received my camera back this week. And the problem is not fixed. Now, after two phone conversations the repair facility is ignoring me.
The spot doesn’t appear under all shooting conditions but when it does appear it’s very noticeable. Through some testing I determined that the problem is worst at very small apertures and in images with a light background. The spot appears starting at around f9 and it gets progressively darker the more I stop down.
I’ve just been through another of the masochistic experiences that I seem to impose on myself every time a new version of Lightroom is released. Ever since Lightroom 3 was released I’ve been trying to find a way to incorporate LR into my Photoshop workflow. And every time I’ve tried I’ve ended up throwing in the towel. I’ve previously written about my experiences on seven different occasions and the major problem I’ve encountered is that there has been no true round-trip Lightroom-to-Photoshop workflow.
The Pilotfly H1+ is a small, lightweight gimbal stabilizer which provides the ability to hold & move a small video camera with one hand while still getting smooth footage. The low cost of this and similar devices is bringing Steadicam-like footage to the low-budget filmmaker and the small size is providing opportunities for getting smooth footage in tight situations where it wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
I’ve been shooting a lot of live performances recently and have been having some trouble maintaining good focus. It’s tough keeping up with performers who are frequently moving around the stage and changing their distance to the camera. With my Panasonic GH4’s small LED screen it’s impossible to accurately determine whether a shot is in focus. (Focus assist auto-zooming doesn’t operate while recording.) So, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my eye glued to the EVF. But that quickly gets tiring and also pretty much eliminates my peripheral vision.
Recently, I shot a live performance and, afterwards when reviewing the footage, I found that I had audio overload problems. I had used my Lumix GH4 with the Panasonic DMW-MS2 microphone and this simple setup just wasn’t equal to the task. The problem was the great dynamic range of the show which included actors and a singer. It was a small venue and when the singer was up close during a crescendo the recorded signal was very loud and badly distorted. Conversely, during quiet moments when the performers were at the other end of the stage or facing the opposite direction the level was too low.
You can clearly see where the waveform has clipped (the current time indicator is right in the middle of a clipped section).
Of course, one thing that would help in a situation like this would be to mike all the performers and set appropriate levels. In this case, that just wasn’t an option. And, it still might not have solved the dynamic range problem completely.
Two-Level Audio RecordingI’ve since figured out a pretty good solution for this kind of scenario and it doesn’t involve miking each performer. My solution was to buy a juicedLink Riggy-Micro preamp and use its second channel -16 db pad feature. When recording in mono on the left channel you can set the right channel to output the same signal but at a level 16 db lower. This way you have two levels to choose from in post. As long as the left channel doesn’t overload you can use it. But, if it does, you can fall back on the right channel and then adjust the gain in post to an appropriate level. It’s like exposure bracketing for audio. This shows what the waveform looks like when capturing a mono signal at the two gain levels.
I’ve tried this a couple of times and it’s worked out well so far. I just choose whichever channel is better, copy it, and paste it into the other channel. It does create more work in post but everything is a compromise, right?
Problems with the Panasonic DMW-MS2 microphone
In my particular case my solution presented another problem beyond the increased workflow complexity. What I didn’t realize when I ordered the preamp is that my Panasonic mike won’t work with it (or any other analog preamp). The DMW-MS2 is designed to be plugged directly into the camera. When connected directly to the camera it offers some nice features like software selectable response patterns (shotgun, super shotgun, stereo, or lens angle tracking). But, as far as I can tell, the microphone only works when plugged directly into a compatible Panasonic camera like the GH4.
For me, this means I have to use my backup microphone, a lower quality off-brand unit, when I want to use the juicedLink preamp for audio bracketing. So, there’s a word to the wise if you’re considering the Panasonic mike. If you’re sure you’ll never need to use it with an external preamp or audio recorder it will probably work just fine for you. Otherwise, you might be better off with another microphone.
Here’s my latest in a series of 17 short videos I’ve produced for the Camino Real Playhouse. It’s a promotional video for the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific.
I was looking recently for an inexpensive slider and I settled on the Glide Gear DEV-1000. I had read and watched a number of reviews and the DEV-1000 looked like a decent option. At a price point of only $89 I knew I wasn’t going to get top quality or special features. But, in this case, I was more interested in low price than top quality. I wanted something that would allow me to get some experience using sliders and then later, if needed, I can get a longer slider or one with more features.
At this point, I’ve done some testing and can report that I’m reasonably happy with it. There are a few problems but I’ve mostly been able to work around them. The most serious problem is that the carrier can wobble. Here’s a clip showing the extent of the wobbling:
As you can see, the amount of wobbling can be substantial, more than enough to ruin a shot. Even so, I’ve found that I can work around the problem simply by not exerting any force in the axis that would cause it to wobble. Here’s a shot of the carrier sliding smoothly without wobbling:
There’s also a shot below showing some footage taken using the DEV-1000 and, as you’ll see, there’s no wobbling (forward and backward). Still, the wobbling is a problem and not the sort of thing that most people would accept in a piece of professional gear.
Tensioner Screw: Either On or Off
One thing that occurred to me to try to stop the wobbling was to tighten the tensioner screw on the carriage. That didn’t work. By the time I tightened the screw enough to prevent wobbling it was impossible to move the carriage, at least, with any smoothness. This speaks to a problem with the tensioner screw itself.
The only the thing the screw is good for is to lock down the carriage completely. At times, that’s both necessary and useful but it means you can’t adjust the tension to fine tune the amount of force needed to move the carriage. As soon as you tighten the tensioner the carriage sticks. There’s really no usable amount of tension greater than none.
The final problem I’ve encountered is with the mounting hardware. As provided, there’s a ¼" bolt that you can use to attach a camera directly to the carriage. Of course, that’s not very useful. Usually, you’ll want to attach some kind of tripod head to the carriage and then mount the camera on the head.
Since most heads are built to screw onto a 3/8" stud the DEV-1000 slider comes with a bushing that can be screwed onto the ¼" stud. This does work—until the time you remove the head to switch to a different one or to use the head on some other piece of gear. What happens is that the bushing comes off the slider stud and is instead screwed into the head. And, if you had securely screwed the head onto the slider the bushing ends up being screwed pretty tightly into the head.
This is a particular problem because the bushing is then difficult to remove from the head. As you can see in the photo, the bushing has a slot that allows it to be unscrewed in a situation like this. But the problem is in finding a tool that will fit that slot. I have a pretty good collection of screwdrivers but none has a blade that is both wide enough to span the width of the slot and thin enough to fit into the slot.
Without a good tool it is impossible to remove the bushing so I started to look around for something other than a screwdriver. There’s probably some tool that’s designed for situations just like these but I don’t know what it is and I don’t have one. What I do have is an ancient metal shoehorn. The narrow end of the shoehorn is both wide enough to span most of the width of the bushing’s slot while also being thin enough to fit into it. That shoehorn was my ball head’s salvation—I was able to extract the bushing so that I could once again use that head on my tripod or monopod.
But if you don’t have an old metal shoehorn or a proper purpose-built tool you may have a problem with this slider. So, beware before tightening your tripod head onto this slider.
Another Glide Gear DEV-1000 Slider Workaround
This time my workaround was to order a little kit which contains a threaded screw adapter. The item that did the trick for me is the ¼" to 3/8" adapter. After screwing the adapter into the carriage I could then screw a ball head or fluid head onto the slider—and still be able to remove the adapter later.
I did have a bit of a problem screwing the adapter into the carriage. When I first tried, I met with substantial resistance after the first couple of turns. That was puzzling because if the threads had been mismatched I shouldn’t have been able to get as far as I did. In a case of mismatched threads you can usually tell pretty quickly that there’s a problem. But in this case, I was able to screw the adapter in a ways before encountering resistance.
In the end, I grabbed a pair of pliers and worked right through the resistance. Later, when I removed the adapter a couple of metal shavings came out. As far as I can tell, I haven’t actually damaged any threads. It seems to have been a case of poor machine work with either the adapter or the slider. I can’t say which.
The Proof of the Pudding
So, I now have a workable slider setup and have done a few practice shots. Here’s an example:
There’s some obvious lens distortion in this sequence that I would normally want to avoid but it shows the movement well enough. I still need to practice my technique some more but the motion looks good enough to me that I’ll be able to use the DEV-1000 slider for a while before needing something more expensive.
I do have another problem with clearance for my Manfrotto ball head’s knobs. My pan lock knob can’t be rotated all the way around without hitting the slider. Fortunately, the knob can be pulled out and rotated to clear the slider and then released in to continue tightening or loosening. But it’s a slow and tedious process. These are the kinds of things you only discover in actual practice and the type of thing I was expecting to learn with this inexpensive slider. Now, I have one more thing to look for when contemplating the purchase of my next slider.