Daniel Haggett

London based Lighting Cameraman / DoP

Recent Work

How to get perfect skin tones on a DSLR 7d or 5d

After filming on 7ds and 5ds for a few years, I have realised that there is not much latitude with regards to perfect skin tones.  With these DSLRs it is really easy to blow the highlights and lose some detail in the face.  It can also be tricky to get the correct white balance, particularly in mixed light conditions, or where the face is small in frame, and therefore hard to judge manually.  A decent monitor can help with all of this, but it still means that a lot of guess work is being done.  There are of course times when you want under exposed skin tones, or a very cold, blue looking light certain scenes in a dramatic context, but for a basic sit down interview, you want correctly exposed and corectly white balanced tones.

Video cameras are set up for filming perfect skin tones: white balances are quick and easy to do, the black and white view finder helps assess exposure and zebras can be used to check skin tones or blown highlights.  On a video camera you would never just look through the view finder and think "yeah looks about right", without actually checking these functions, so why do it with a DSLR?  The following is a method I have found useful for getting accurate skin tones.

Firstly, we'll look at white balance.

 

How to get the correct white balance on a DSLR.

In some situations it is fine to use the white balance presets.  If it is a bright sunny day (around 5600 kelvin) then the outdoor preset will be about right; and the same is true if you are indoors using tungsten light, the indoor or tungsten preset will work (at 3200 kelvin).  However, often when filming interviews the light tends to vary from these presets.  You could be shooting indoors with a tungsten lighting setup, but ambient daylight could be creeping into the room, changing your 3200 kelvin light into something altogether cooler.  One option is to look at the light, make a guess and say it is around 4500 kelvin and turn the WB wheel around to 4500 kelvin and make minor adjustments from that figure.  There is an issue in this though, how do you know your monitor or evf is showing the correct colour? The monitor colour can often be slightly different from that displayed on the back of the camera, and in any case you are just guessing. A solution to this can be to us an 18 percent  grey card.

 

How to use an 18 percent grey card

When shooting with traditional video cameras I have always used a white card, however, it seems many photographers tend to use a grey card, the reason for this is that although both colours should give a correct white balance reading, a white card can occasionally reflect light directly into the camera lens, and give a false white balance.  Since HDSLRs are essentially stills cameras, I use the grey cards that photographers prefer.

 

The grey card should be held in place of the person you are shooting.  Make sure it is at head height as the light quality could be different elsewhere in the shot.

This is the menu screen for the Canon 7d (I imagine most cameras will be pretty similar and use the same icons).

Canon 7d Custom White balance menu

Stage 1:

Take a photo of the card, with the card filling the frame (if you are unable to fill the frame with the card, make sure the metering mode is on spot, so you are only metering off the card, and not the entire scene.  You can now use this photo to as a reference to set white balance.  Hit the MENU button, go to the 2nd page of menu items and hit Custom WB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canon 7d Custom White balance menu

Stage2:

A screen will pop up on the photo of the grey card you have just taken and ask you if you want to use that for your custom white balance.  Hit ok.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Canon 7d Custom White balance menu

    Stage3:

    After this you need to make sure you are using the custom WB reference you have just taken.  Again, press MENU, go to the 2nd page, scroll down to White balance, hit this and you will go through to a page with 9 options, pick the custom white balance option.  (The WB menu also has its own button on the top of the camera, I also have white balance set up in my custom menu so I can access it quickly as I use it a lot.)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The next thing to consider is exposure.   Monitors are a great way to check correct focus on DSLRs, but they are not always perfect for exposure. This is where the 2nd use for your 18 percent grey card comes in handy.

     

    Using and 18 percent grey card for perfect exposure for skin tones.

    18 percent grey cardThis is a picture of my 18 percent grey card.  In this picture the exposure line was dead set in the middle (ie at 0, rather than a plus or minus figure).  The histogram should show a single fat line right in the  middle of the graph.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    poorly exposed grey card

     

     

     

     

     

     

    This is a poorly exposed shot of the same grey card.  This was taken with the exposure line still in the dead centre, meaning that the shot as a whole is correctly exposed, however, the card is very underexposed.  If this was someone's face masses of detail would be missing from the image.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    correctly exposed grey cardFor this shot I kept the exposure at the same setting as in picture one, I then re positioned the camera and took the shot.  The exposure reading was saying 2 stops over, which it is when you consider the whole frame, the highlights have blow out but the grey is correct.  If you look at the grey card in this image, the exposure of the card is right and pretty much the same as in the first shot.  So if you were filming an interview at this exposure the skin tones would be accurate.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     You can just use a normal grey card, but I prefer to use this little popup ones from lastolite as they pack down really small and are very tough.

     

    alt        alt 

     

     

     

     

     

    The last thing to consider with this is not everyone's skin tone is exactly the same as an 18 percent grey card.  A white skinned person, without a tan will be over the middle line by a stop and a back person will be under it by a stop.  It is still well worth taking a reading from an 18 percent gray card though, so you know where that middle is.

     

    audio recording with 7d and 5d

    How do you record audio when using a 7d, 5d mark 2 or other HDSLR?

    There are several different ways to do this, and which method you choose will depend on the type of sound quality you need and your budget.

    Option 1: Get a sound recordist to do it.  This is easily the best option, I nearly always use a sound recordist when shooting HDSLR.  All you need to make sure is that the Sound Operator owns a digital recorder so sound files can be recorded onto his or her hard drive and then synched with the HDSLR footage later.

    This synching can be done quickly and easily with a programme called Plural Eyes.  Plural Eyes picks out the audio levels on the internal camera mic and the sound recordists files and puts them together.  For this to work YOU MUST ENSURE AUDIO IS SWITCHED ON IN CAMERA, you won't use this audio, but it is needed as a guide.

    If the Sound Recordist is standing along way from the camera, the two sound sources may be different and therefore Plural Eyes will struggle to synch them.  There are a couple of ways around this. Firstly you can send signal from the Sound Recordist to the camera via radio mic.  A radio mic receiver will sit on your camera hot shoe and feed the audio recording into the camera.  You might ask, well why not just use this audio?  The reason is that the HDSLRs have their own preamps which mean you aren't recording high quality audio in camera, and with the 7d it only records audio on auto.  It is best just to use this as a guide track for Plural Eyes to Synch with.

    If your soundie doesn't have a spare radio mic to do this, then you can synch simply with a clapper board, or even a hand clap at the start or end of each take.  Likely hood is, Plural Eyes will pick out this clap and synch the clips automatically at the edit stage, if not at least the editor will have something to help the process along manually.

    Another option to aid synching is to film the sound recordists timecode.    If you lean over and get a shot inside the bag you will see the timecode and this will allow the editor to workout fairly accurately what bit of sound this image relates to.  Some sound recordist even hook up ipods which can display the timecode coming off their recording device, which is easier to film as it has a bigger screen.

    Zoom h4nOption 2: If you don't have budget for a soundie, and if the sound recording is very simple - say a sit down interview - then you might be able to use your own external recorder.  For this I would recommend the Zoom H4n The great thing about this device is it has it's own pretty decent mic. ideal for atmos, and it has XLR inputs with phantom power so you can plug in your 416 mic, radio mic whatever and record that audio to an SD card.  It is a decent quality product and very easy to use.  There are 2 XLR channels, and a clear read out that is well lit and easy to read audio levels from.

    A word of warning: if you do go this route, get plenty of batteries, this thing eats them. (2 x AAs will just about last 1 day shooting if you are lucky.)  If you are powering a mic that needs phantom power, such as a 416, as the power in your battery gets close to low, the sound level will start to fall, so make sure you top up the batteries.  (It does come with plug in power, but I can't imagine using that much.)  Another thing you can do to help the power output is put batteries in the mics that require phantom power, such as a 416 or ECM mic.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Rode MicOption 3: If you don't really need to much audio and just want to get a bit of atmos only, then you could just get a Rode mic and plug it into the camera.  The are a few issues with this touched on earlier. The 5d mark 2 has controllable audio levels with a firmware release, but the 7d does not, so you will constantly be on auto with the 7d.  As this is just for atmos it may not matter to you.  The other issue is both cameras have low quality pre amps, so it is not going to be the best audio quality in the world.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    If you can, get a Sound Recordist, there is enough for the cameraman to do on an HDSLR shoot without having to faff about with audio issues.

    Using a 7d for broadcast actuality scenes

    Most of what I shoot with my Canon 7d tends to be fairly controlled and set up, as this is where the camera really comes into its own.  Director / Producer Lucy Cutler from the BBC contacted me as she wanted to shoot a film with a different look and was keen to use some kind of DSLR for the shoot.  Initially it sounded like the wrong camera for the job, but I was really interested to see if you could shoot a standard fly on the wall or observational style piece with a 7d. For this project, it was impossible to control the scenes in this way at it was more of a "run and gun."

    When shooting any actuality scene I find myself continually re-framing in order to help the edit.  If I shot an entire scene on a mid shot there would be nothing to cut to, so a variety of shots are needed in a very short space of time, and this can be a challenge on an HDSLR as the lenses just don't have the same range as a traditional broadcast camera.  Alternating between a wide and a tight on a 17-55 mill lens gave me just enough variety, along with moving position more frequently than you might need to with a full size camera.

    The big difficulties are obviously lack of ND and iris control.  Following a presenter as she walks from dark rooms to bright rooms to outdoors with no ND filters or a smooth iris control was obviously pretty tricky.  I tried to control these scenes as much as possible, by stopping the action before going into a new room.  I used an ND fader on the front of the lens which I find essential for DSLR work, you can twist the ND ring to give you more or less light.

    On the whole I would say shooting actuality on a 7d is difficult, but not impossible.  Check out the results below.{vimeo width="640" height="360"}33036067{/vimeo}

    Some thoughts on the new Canon C300 compared to the RED scarlet and the Sony F3

    When the Canon C300 was announced there was a collective sigh of disappointment from legions of Canon EOS shooters, who were probably hoping for a camera under 5000 dollars that fixed up some of the issues they had been having shooting with their EOS cameras for the past couple of years.  Maybe expectations got a bit carried away, with rumours flying around about a new camera that shoots 4k at pro res while over cranking etc etc.

    However, for those working in TV, used to paying a much higher price for broadcast spec cameras, the C300 looks much more interesting and at a reasonable price point.

    Canon c300

    There is a lot that is good about the C300.  Firstly, it is made by Canon, it therefore will work, will be reliable and have plenty of places that will sell it and its accessories (or take it in to be fixed should anything go wrong).  Secondly, if you are already invested in EOS lenses, shoulder rigs, focus units and so on, you can continue to use those tools.  Thirdly, it records with Canon XF 50Mbps 4:2:2 MPEG2 codec.

    For people that want to upgrade from the Canon EOS range, the next price step up is the FS100 and the AF100 that solve EOS issues (such as audio and short record clip lengths).  This is not the bracket Canon are aiming at with the C300.  The C300 is priced much higher, and brings it to the same range as the Sony F3 and now the RED Scarlet.

    The RED scarlet does have some great credentials on paper - mainly that it shoots RAW 4k footage.  However, the biggest problem from my perspective is work flow. The broadcast world is just not interested in 4k yet and so will not be willing to go through the extra hassle of additional work flow issues.  People working in commercials or in special effects work will be interested in the Scarlet, and for them, the C300s 1080, 422 at 8 bit might not be enough.

    So the next consideration is The Sony F3.  Sony is such an established name in the broadcast industry it doesn't need much introduction.  People are used to using SxS cards and they seem to be very solid.  The only real issue I have with the Sony F3 is the fact that it records at 35MBPS unless you go out of the camera to a nano flash.  This puts it out of the considered range of "HD" by some broadcasters.  The Canon C300 records at 50MBps in camera, which is a huge plus.

    All in all I think the Canon C300 is a very interesting offering, and will be putting my name on the list as soon as they are launched.

    Screen Protector for TV logic Monitor

    If you are looking for a screen protector for the TV Logic VFM-056W, you could either pay £100 for a thick piece of plastic from TV Logic that screws over the screen (and probably reflects a lot of light) or you could buy a stick on screen protector for £15 from Amazon.  The screen protector goes on well and gives the monitor a matte finish, cutting down glare slightly and protecting the screen from scratches.

    What to look for when buying a DSLR lens for video

    If you are looking to buy a lens for a DSLR camera to shoot video with, there are a few things that are
    worth looking out for.


    First question: Prime or Zoom?

    The answer to whether to buy a prime or a zoom lens, really depends on the type of work you do. Although we would all love to shoot everything on primes, with a tiny depth of field and fantastic quality optics, how realistic is this? For certain jobs, there is the time to change lenses, a camera assistant to help out and speed the process along, and for other jobs there is no time.  As your rig grows, it is easy to end up with a matte box or flare hood, an ND fader, a follow focus etc etc and all of this kit slows down the amount of time it takes to change a lens.

    Imagine setting up an interview on a 50mm lens and the director asks you to punch in a bit tighter, you can either reset your tripod moving forward and re bubble it, or change to another lens – some shoots there is time for this, and some not. I find having the flexibility to move in a touch, often mid interview, to show some emotion on the interviewees face or just add a cutting point, is a big help for a large chunk of the work I do.  A standard zoom such as Canon’s EFS 17-55mm for the 7d or the EF 24-70 for the 5d would be my first choice for lenses.   Both of these lenses are nice and fast (2.8 throughout the range).  If you are willing to sacrifice a bit on the speed of the lens you could get the 24-105mm.  You gain a bit of extra length here, but the sacrifice is dropping down to a slower 4f throughout the range.  Two of these lenses are stabilised and one isn't (the 24-70 isn't)  However, the 24-70 is 2.8 so nice and fast and I really like that range for shooting handheld (rather than the wider 17-55) so I end up using it alot anyway.

    Canon EF 24-70mm

    Canon EF 24-70mm

     

    alt     alt

    Pros:

    Fast 2.8f

    Good range 24-70 is really nice for handheld

    Cons:

    More expensive than the 2 medium zooms below

    No image stabilisation.

     

     

     

     

     

     Canon EFS 17-55mm 

    alt

     

    alt     alt

    Pros: 

    Image stabilised

    Fast at 2.8f

    Cons:

    Not L series - slightly plastic feel and not weather sealed.

     

     

     

     

     

     Canon EF 24-105mm F4

    Pros: 

    Weather sealed L series

    Image stabilised

    Large range

    Cons:

    Slower at 4f

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Ok, so you have your 17-55mm or 24-70mm or 24-105mm standard zoom, this is a great start but if you do the kind of work that involves a lot of interviews, I find 80mm (which is roughly what you’re looking at with the 17-55 on the long end with the 1.6 crop factor) is not quite long enough. More on crop factors and lens size comparison here.   For a standard MCU (medium close up) in an interview you need to bring the camera too close to the interviewee. Having a camera right in someone face, if they are not used to being interviewed, can be uncomfortable for them.

     

     

    Canon EF 70-200Longer zoom lenses such as the 70-200mm will solve this problem, but can be very expensive, so what are you paying for? At the top end of the Canon range you get a much faster lens (2.8f) this is very useful as it gives you more scope to shoot in low light conditions and has a smaller depth of field. It is also stabilised, which is really useful for video. I was surprised at how good they are when I first started using them . Canon EOS lenses have IS in their name to show they have this function.  I am a massive fan of Canon's 70-200, it is tack sharp and produces a really good quality image.

     

    alt  alt

     

     

    Should I just buy a cheaper zoom lens?

    There are a few issues with lenses as you go down the price range. Firstly, they are slower with apertures around the 4.5 to 5.6 mark, this means they are not as great in low light and don’t have such a narrow depth of field. Secondly, the build quality isn’t as good, often the cheaper lenses are in plastic casing rather than metal. Thirdly, and most importantly for shooting video, the aperture changes throughout the zoom range. Imagine you are shooting a tight shot on the long end of the lens, and then you zoom back for a wide and you’ll be pretty over exposed. This probably isn’t an issue for a photographer, but it could be if you are shooting video. The next point is a bit of a killer. If you take a zoom lens, zoom in to the subject and make sure it is sharp, then go back to your wider shot on some lenses the focus point will have shifted slightly. This is a disaster from a DSLR video point of view. With a broadcast lens this aberration can be easily fixed with a backfocus chart, this is not the case with a stills lens. You can of course avoid checking focus in this manner by using the digital zoom on your camera, but – and it is a big but - not if you are already rolling (at least not if you are shooting on a Canon DSLR). If you are shooting with a sound recordist and you synch up your camera to their external recorder, once you are rolling that is it, you can’t cut, and you can’t use your digital zoom.  (This aberation is very common on stills lenses, even at the higher end of the price range.)    Cheaper lenses usually aren't weather sealed as well as the 70-200 above, so if you are shooting in the rain it could get damaged.  There is also the issue with the focus ring.  Many cheaper lenses have a build quality that works for photographers taking photos with auto focus.  When you are shooting video, you obviously need to use the focus ring manually, and I find that cheaper lenses don't funtion quite as well here, just a tiny nudge on the focus ring and the shot will drift out of focus, whereas the more expensive lenses are just a bit more solid, as they lens manufacturers expect the focus rings to be used manually.

     

    My advice would be, if you can afford the more expensive 70-200 lens, get it, and if not buy the cheaper 70-300 IS, but be aware of its limitations, you can still get good results with this lens, the glass is still good quality and you will still get great images, but be aware of its problems.  In between these options there are other choices:  you can get a 70-200 that still has image stabilisation and it still has a constant maximum aperture through the range, but it is 4f not 2.8f.  This is a good option as it is almost half the price of the 70-200L 2.8IS.

     

    So now you have a standard zoom and a long zoom, you are well set up to shoot most situations, but you want to add a nicer look to your work, so you want a prime.  The first prime I would buy without a shaddow of a doubt would be a 50mm.  50mm lens are great, especially on DSLRs such as the 7d with a 1.6 crop, or cameras with a super 35 sensor sizes.  They are also very well priced compared to all other primes.  For the same money as you pay for a 85 a 35 a 28 or whatever, the 50mm will pretty much always be faster and this is true across all the manufacturers.  So what 50mm to buy?   As everyone is on a different budget, here are a few options.

     

    Option 1, top end:

    Zeiss ZE or ZF 50mm 1.4f:

    Zeiss make superb lenses.  If you have the cash, this is the one to go for.  The ZE is a Canon mount, the ZF a Nikon.  The Nikon can be adapted to shoot on a Canon mount and the advantage of this is that the Nikon has an iris wheel.  There are companies that will declick this for you, giving you a great video lens.

    alt      alt

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     Option 2, Mid range:

    Canon 1.4f

    This is a really nice fast 50mm lens and a great price.

    alt    alt

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Option 3, budget:

    Canon 1.8f

     

    If you are on a limited budget, then this is a great option.   The only slight issue I have with this is that the focus wheel is tiny.  This lens has been designed with the auto focus system in mind.  That said it is certainly a bargain. 

     

    alt    alt

     

     

    The next lens to look at is probably a wide zoom.   The mid range zooms discussed at the begining are really not super wide.   I am a big fan of the Tokina 11-16mm for Super 35mm sensor cameras or APSC chips (this would include the 7d) or if you have a full frame 1D or 5D then a Canon 16-35mm.

    Tokina 11-16mm (NB for APSC sensor 7D etc NOT FULL FRAME)

    alt    alt

    Canon 16-15mm (for 5d or 1d)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     alt    alt

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    So, in answer to the original question, as to whether to buy primes or zoom lenses,  the answer is, you may need both.  If you generally shoot in situations where there is enough time to frequently change lenses, primes are great.  Generally speaking, primes are built with less glass meaning they allow more light in, they tend to be better in lower light and have a smaller depth of field when wide open.  Even if you work on projects that are relatively quick moving,  getting a few establishing shots on a 50mm at 1.4 will give you some stunning small depth of field shots, and really add some value to your work, but is likely to be used less often that a standard zoom. I tend to put my standard zoom on the camera and leave it there for 70 percent or more for the shoot, so this is where I don't mind investing some money.   

     

    One last point to note.  Lenses hold their value very well as you can easily see from Ebay.  If you buy a lens it is worth investing in the best optics you can afford.  If you decide later it is not the right lens for you, you can always sell it and you probably won't lose much money.

     

    There is more geeky lens chat on the equipment page.

    You may also be interested in:

    What is the best zoom lens for DSLR and video cameras.

    DSLR toplight LED light panel

    DSLR top light LED

    If you are looking for a DSLR top light, I would highly recommend the Tecpro Fellini Click LED Camera light. It is very lightweight but has some serious power.  The light has a dimmer switch so you can get the right amount of light you need.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    DSLR top light LED

    It also comes with coloured panels which magnetically clip on, so you can easily change the light from daylight to tungsten.   It has a ball and socket head, which will fit on the hot shoe on top of your 7d or 5d C300 etc. 

    The magnetic colour panels are really sturdy, and being able to clip them on to the edge of the light is pretty useful for run and gun shoots, if you find yourself moving from day light to tungsten situations.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    battery powered led top light For power you can either run if off 5AA batteries or you can attach an old Sony video battery (any of the following LF570, F770, F970 ,F550,F750). You can also attach  several of them together to create a panel.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    sony battery back for LED top light

     DSLR top light LED

     As you can see from the photos above, it is fairly rugged in construction, way more so than most LED top lights.

    There are certainly cheaper LED top lights on the market, which I have used but the build quality isn't as good.  The fact that the Felini click has magnets on the edges of the defusion and tungsten screens makes the light really quick and easy to use.

    I used this the other night on a shoot for the BBC.  The presenter was sitting in a car, and needed to be lit gently enough so it was still possible to see the small amount of light in the street as well as the presenter.  The Fellini click was perfect for this, I could just set my exposure to capture a small amount of the scene through the window and then dial in enough light so the presenter was well lit.

    If you want to buy one from the UK I bought mine here.

    Lite panel LED top light
    Another popluar LED top light is Litepanels LP-Micro.  These guys are the market leaders when it comes to LED light panels so I expected their top lights to be of a similar quality, however, this is not the case.  The light is really light weight and feels fragile.  You get the sense that after a few tough shoots it would easily break.  Another big issue with it is the thin plastic defusion and gel covers, these have to be slotted onto the front of the light, which is a bit fiddly and would probably be damaged after frequent use.

     

    With regards to power, I haven't tested them side by side, but if you look at the difference in the number of LED lights they have, it is easy to see where the power is. 

    The two lights are a similar price, in fact the Tecpro Fellini Click is slightly cheaper, but as you can see from the photos Tecpro is way better built, and is a far better buy in my opinion.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    where to buy DSLR video gear in London

    Top places to buy broadcast cameras, video and DSLR gear in London and the US.


    I find it is much easier to buy all my camera gear from as few places as possible.  Getting everything from one shop usually means you can get a better deal from the seller and it is just less hassle.  The other advantage is if you are on the flat rate scheme you can get all the kit onto one invoice and reclaim the VAT.  The larger places with the most kit are usually out in the suburbs, so I have put in a few smaller shops in central London that I have used and recommed as well.

    Central London:

    The Flash Centre in Bloomsbury are quite good, although they tend to be more photography centred than video, that said they do stock a full range of Zacuto gear. They also stock some lighting and basic sound gear.

    PEC Video Ltd are in Soho, they are fully video focused and stock a decent range of DSLRs, video cameras, tripods, dollys, grip equipment, lighting and audio.  They also rent kit.

    Calumet: These guys have a couple of places, one on Drumond Street by Euston and a smaller shop in Soho on Wardour street.  Traditionally a photography shop, but now sell video kit.

    Out of town:

    Creative Video are good as they have a really large selection and are fully video centred, whatever you want, you can pretty much guarantee they'll have it; the big advantage of CVP/Mitcorp is, they have more kit than anywhere else in London.  They have a good website with clear discriptions of all their kit, they also do a price match deal on some of their items, meaning if you can find the deal cheaper anywhere else, they'll match it.  CVP are based west of London in Brentford.

    Production Gear these guys are a fairly recent descovery for me, and think they are great.  The main pluses are:

    1. The staff really know their stuff.  I spoke to Edward, one of the owners, he was really enthusiastic, knowledgeable and helpful.  He even assembled my entire Redrock rig for me, which would have taken me ages to figure out by myself.
    2. They have a showroom.  This is invaluable, trying to buy something online by reading reviews and looking at pictures can be really difficult.  Holding the products in your hand and comparing them is so much easier.
    3. They are near the M25 in Borehamwood. (useful if you live in London).
    4. They don't try and sell you stuff you don't need.  Edward actually told me one of the products seemed a bit overpriced and searched for a cheaper alternative and ordered it for me - this is not the kind of service you get everywhere.

    Top Tecs 

    Top Tecs have been around for years, selling broadcast video equipment. Based in Harefield Middlesex.

    Pro Kit

    Pro Kit are another large broadcast TV supplier based in West London near Chiswick. 

    In the USA:

    If you happen to have a shoot coming up in the US it is well worth checking out these two suppliers.

    B&H

    B&H in New York is like Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory for camera operators.  Based in Midtown Manhatten, the store is spread over several levels.  Every bit of video kit you can imagine is for sale, all easily accessable on the shelves.  You only need to ask, to try out a certain bit of kit, touch, it hold it, compare it to another model right there.  If you decide to buy it, you won't have to lug it around the shop, all the items you want will magically appear bagged up at the checkout, transported around the shop on system of conveyor belts.  If you can't visit them in New York they deliver world wide and I get a small comission if you use a link from this site.

    Ablecine

    Ablecine are great contributors to the world of video, often blogging about kit, creating picuture profiles for cameras etc etc.  They are based in New York, Chicago and LA.

     

     

    DSLR monitor and EVF review

    EVF and Monitor review of Zacuto, Small HD, TV Logic and Marshall

     

    Zacuto Z - finder

    z finder pro Checking focus and exposure on a small, low resolution screen on the back of a Canon 5d or 7d has never been an easy thing to do. Zacuto first tried to solve this by selling an eye piece, the Z-finder.  This certainly made things better, it blocks out light and allows you to see the image better, but essentially you are just looking at a low resolution picture that has been magnified.  The other big problem is, it means getting your body into all sorts of strange positions as the eye piece can't be tilted up or down, so if you are shooting shots on the ground, you need to be lying on the ground, which isn't always ideal.

     

     

     

     

     

    Zacuto Z- finder EVF

     

    zacuto evfA step up from this the EVF or electronic viewfinder.   These run an HDMI signal out of the camera and give a higher quality picture which can be moved around like a traditional full size camera eye piece.  In the case of the Zacuto the resolution is 56 percent better than what you are looking at on the back of a DSLR like the 5d or 7d. Redrock also sell an EVF, as do Cineroid.  Those who already own a Zacuto Z-finder may be tempted by the slightly more expensive Zacuto EVF as it can be used in conjunction with the Z finder. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The next option is the HD monitor.  EVFs tend to still be fairly low res and are only around 3 inches.  HD monitors are almost double that size and have a much better image quality.  The increased size also means a director or client could look over your shoulder and get an idea of the kind of shots you are getting.  There are several different types of monitor, but for this kind  of job it is worth considering SmallHD, Marshall and TVlogic.


    Firstly, let's consider resolution.  When viewing a 16:9 image on the back of a 7d or 5d screen you are essentially viewing a resolution of 650 x 360. With Zacuto's EVF this goes up to 800 x 480, but with a 5.6" monitor you are going up to 1280x800 in the case of TV logic and Small HD, and 1024x 768 in the case of the Marshall 6.5"  or 800x480 with the Marshall 5".

    Making sure the monitor has decent resolution is only part of the issue here, it is also worth considering how you want to power your monitor, and what kind of inputs and outputs it has.  The Marshall 5" is reasonably priced at under £500 (and about 500 dollar in the US) , however, it only has HDMI - so not great if you want to use if on another camera in the future, and it is powered by AA batteries.  If you are going to spend 500 quid, I think it is worth future proofing the monitor, there are many applications where an HDMI input just won't do the job.  This wouldn't really work for me, so from here, I'll just consider the next model up: the 6.5" Marshall.

    Marshall 6.5"

    marshall 5 monitorThe Marshall get's great reviews from Philip Bloom and a whole host of other DSLR shooters.   It seems particularly favored for its false colour and peaking, making exposing and focusing much easier.  Although it isn't clear from Marshall's own site, if you go to a reseller such as Creative Video, they can add a few power options, so you can power the camera off the same LP-E6 batteries that run your Canon camera. 

    The big problem for me with Marshall monitors is that they only sell HDMI or HD/SDI.  This isn't great for future proofing your monitor.  If you are spending a grand on a monitor you need it to last.  Personally, as a freelancer, I could find myself shooting a different camera at any point, and having an SDI input is essential for many cameras, particularly outside the DSLR world.  I generally think of BNC connectors as being industry standard, whereas HDMI is really a consumer connection when it comes to cameras.  Imagine a situation where you need to use this as a directors monitor, and the director needs to be a 10 or 20 meters away - I don't even think they make HDMIs that long, and even if they did the likelyhood of the HDMI connector pulling out of the socket is very high. BNC is the way forward.

     

     

     

     

     

     Small HD DP 6


    Ssmall hd dp6mall HD seem to have the right idea here.  Their product looks great, there a lots of options with regards to inputs so you can have both HDMI and HD/SDI if you need it, you can also choose from a huge variety of power options.    There is also a kit which gives you a flare hood and whole load of other useful accessories.

    (SmallHD would probably be the first choice for me, if it wasn't for the fact they are based in the US and have no UK reseller.  For tax purposes it is much better for me to by all my kit from one UK reseller and then claim the VAT back, and for that reason I had a look at TV logic.  Buying SmallHD outside of the US means you are paying all sorts of taxes and import duties, money which is better spent on your monitor.)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Small HD DP4

    Small HD DP 4 review


    If you are looking for something in between and EVF and a monitor, the Small HD DP4 would be a good option, it is a great size and comes with a hood loupe. I have used this a few times and really liked it.  It is a nice size at 4.6", this means you can use it as a small monitor on your camera, or you can clip on the hood loop and use it more like a traditional view finder.  I find when using monitors as view finders, even if you have a good flare hood, there will always be a time when the light is reflecting right of the screen messing up your view.  With the hood loupe, you totally eliminate this problem.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     TV Logic 5.6

    tv logic 5.6 monitor

    TV logic are based in Korea, they have been making broadcast monitors for years and have recently added 2 x 5.6 inch monitors to their range for the DSLR market.  I have previously owned one of their larger monitors and know they build decent kit.  Unlike Marshall, they offer both HDMI and HD/SDI inputs.  There are also several different power options and it has high resolution 1280 x 800 screen.  Both TV logic models are much the same, but the more expensive of the two has a vector scope and waveform and it also has HDMI to SDI out allowing connections to other monitors.  If you are unsure you need the more expensive model, you can always upgrade later and have these features added to your monitor.

    Strangely TV Logic monitors seem to be a bit under the radar, every forum post I read talks about SmallHD and Marshall, but no one mentions TV Logic.  The really great thing about their monitors is the weight: they weigh practically nothing (about 300 grams or just over half a pound.)   The Marshall of the equivalent screen size is really a whole lot bigger and heavier.

     

     

     

     

    So, all in all there is now a pretty wide variety of on-board monitoring devices for the DSLR shooter, from the simple eye piece to the 7" monitor.  Essentially, the kind of work you do, and the kind of budget you have to play with, will inevitably help make the final decision.  I have used all of these monitors and must admit my vote would be for the TV logic 5.6

     

    UPDATE (Feb 2013):

    SMALL HD AC7

    Small HD AC7Just to make that decision a little bit harder, Small HD have now added to their range with the AC7.  All the monitors in this review are LCD, Small HD now have OLED or an LCD version of the AC7.  The LCD version is 7" while the OLED version is 7.7".  You pay more if you want SDI as well as HDMI and you pay more again if you want the OLED version (which gives you a range from 600 to 1400 USD).

    OLED should in theory give you a much better picture, and looking at the info on Small HDs website these monitors should be very impressive.

    To read more about LCD V OLED take a look at the Small HD fact page.

     

     

    Building a DIY slider UK

    About 6 months ago I built a slider for my Canon 7D, several people have asked how I made it so I thought I would write it up here.  Many manufacturers are making sliders for the small camera market using the same basic components bought from the same supplier.  This means you can save yourself some money by cutting out the middle-man and make it yourself.  However, before you do this it is worth considering whether it is actually worth saving the money, versus the amount of time and effort it will take you to do it yourself.  Companies such as glide track can send you a slider all ready and working for under 300 pounds and you won't have to touch a drill, however, if like me you enjoy fiddling around with drills and screws then read on.

    Read more: Building a DIY slider UK

    BBC Horizon Shoot

    For my latest project I have been filming a replica brain for the BBC strand Horizon.  Real human brains are apparently hard to come by, this one is a replica from a medical supplier.  We used a turntable (from Aimimage) to rotate it against a black background.  This was shot on my Canon 7d, using my full size Miller tripod for the moves and pans, and a stills tripod was used for the more extreme angle lock offs

     

     

     

     

     

    Read more: BBC Horizon Shoot