Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sennheiser HD-280 Headphones Review

I was looking for affordable headphones for personal listening while traveling that could also be used for work in the studio and in the field.  I purchased the HD-280's after several months of research, and I am extremely happy with my purchase... so much so that I will be outfitting the studio with several more pairs.

413dm8SG1nL._SY300_Most of the headphones I own are for "professional" application, and thus require more power to drive the speakers. At 64 ohms, these cans are easily driven by my iPod and sound great without requiring a headphone amp.

There are a lot of reviews regarding the sound of these phones, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on audio "flavor."  The HD-280's are nice and flat --minimal audio coloring, which makes them perfect for a studio tracking situation.  There is plenty of bass, but they aren't bass heavy. After a lot of research, I don't think there is a pair of headphones out there that can stand up to the "true" audio quality of these phones at this price point.  They could be used for mixing in a pinch, though I will always use a higher quality set of headphones for mixing (I rarely mix with headphones, but for reference, when I do I use Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO’s at 250 ohms).

For tracking, the HD-280 can't be beat.  And at under one hundred dollars, there is no question that these are the most affordable, quality option for outfitting a studio.  However, even if I had unlimited money, I can't imagine purchasing anything but these in quantity.  The attenuation is fantastic (they are tight to the user's head and leak almost no audio), and I get little to no audio bleed even when tracking super-close vocals.  While they *can* take a lot of abuse, at this price, they are practically disposable (even though the ear pads, cord, and headband pad are easily replaced), so I don't have to get so testy with the jackass lead guitar player tossing them on the floor after a session. [smile]

Because of this fantastic attenuation, we will also be using these to record audio in the field for film and video applications.  I first received these while on vacation, and I was actually using them NOT PLUGGED IN to simply create silence.  They are on par with the ANSI ear protection I use while working in the woodshop.

The coiled cord will keep the cord alive longer, but it is a little annoying because of its weight. If one is not careful, they will also tangle more easily than a straight cord. I will likely explore options for a straight cord, especially when using these while traveling.

The cord is made to be easily changed, and the included instruction manual has clear and specific instructions for how to do this.  However, it's not as easy as simply unscrewing or unplugging the cord (my Beyer-Dynamic DT-150’s have a 6 pin connector you simply unplug); you need to take apart the housing of the left speaker and unplug the cord from the inside.  There is no soldering involved (the end of cord plugs into a spot on the inner board), and the entire process should only take a couple of minutes.

There seems to be a lot of disagreement as to whether these phones are "comfortable" or not.  I chose to ignore the people complaining that they were uncomfortable, even painful, after about an hour of use and decided to take a gamble.  Due to the tight compression of the pads against the head, the complainers were right.  While I don't think my ears stick out abnormally far, I do find that the inside of the headphones (the speakers) press up against the top of my ears, so I do need to take a break every once in a while.  I would say this is simply the price of such a tight seal against the head (and worth the trade).  It's actually also a good "timing device" to remind the user to take a break every once in a while; when they start to get uncomfortable, it's probably time to give your eardrums a break anyway.

I will eventually have to purchase more appropriate "personal travelers" that are a little more comfortable (lighter, less pressure on my ear tops), but for now these are fine --I just have to give my ears a chance to breathe a little more often. They definitely aren’t the best choice for traveling phones (too heavy, too bulky). Perhaps the "in-ear" options can never be beat for this reason (weight, comfort, and size).  Luckily these will continue to fulfill a role in the studio and in the field, so I don’t need to worry about buyer’s remorse regarding personal headphones.

The padding is leatherette (like all of my Beyer-Dynamics) and will likely need to be replaced after a couple of years (I recently had to replace my DT-150 pads), but due to the popularity of these headphones the replacement pads are readily available (have been for years, and likely will be for many years to come).  The padding for the headband is made of the same material, and also readily available.  There is a "Ziploc" type fastening system that runs the length of the entire headband (on top) for easy and secure fastening.

I love that the speakers are rotatable 90 degrees.  They lay flat on the table when you set them down, and you can solo one side or the other (though they don't flip 180 degrees as some reviewers have suggested so you have to pull them away from your head a good deal to do this).

While they don't get "tiny," its nice that these full-size headphones can collapse to about the size of a 750ml bottle of Crown Royal (though I prefer Pappy Van Winkle bourbon).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mom from the Galaxy S III Commercial about Waiting in Line for iPhone

MV5BNDM5MzA1MjU3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTE3NTcwMw@@._V1._SX214_CR0,0,214,314_Another thing on TV that was driving me crazy… I couldn’t place the actress who plays the mom in the new(ish) Samsung Galaxy III S commercial where all the iSheep are waiting in line for the new iPhone 5.

Her name is Jeannetta Arnette (click for IMDb).

She’s been in a LOT of TV (going all the way back to Riptide and Three’s Company!), has done a lot of crime television, and was even a “party guest” in 10 starring Bo Derek and Dudley Moore, but I think she is most emblazoned on my mind for her role in the Criminal Minds episode where she played the wife (also accused) of a serial killer (they were sort of like serial killer celebrities back in the day).  She painted pictures in her jail cell.  The team was searching for the “final victim.” You know the one.

Anyway… that’s who she is.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Argo is a Remake (why is no one talking about this fact?)

When I first saw the trailer for Ben Affleck’s new movie Argo, I thought, “Huh, they’re remaking that.”

Later, as Ben Affleck was getting more and more press and praise for this “original” film, I began wondering why no one was talking about it being a remake.  I was positive I had seen the film, and remembered enjoying it quite a bit (the plot, at least).

Then when Wired magazine started taking credit for breaking the original story as if it was all theirs, I started getting really annoyed that I wasn’t hearing anything about Argo being a remake.

When I tried to research the original film, I found that it was incredibly difficult (well… at least by today’s standards) to find any information on the subject.  Was I crazy?  Had I imagined this entire film?!

Finally, however, I found some answers.  Argo is a remake of the 1981 film “Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper” (brilliant title, no?).

escape-from-iran-the-canadian-caper-1981-true-story-dvd-94c7Here’s an image from the original movie that I found via the webpage of some guy actually selling a homemade DVD of the made for television movie!

Here is the Wikipedia page highlighting the actual events upon which this film was based.

443px-Argo_posterTo the right is the actual (fake) movie poster created by the CIA for the fake movie Argo.

So… while I think the film is going to be fun, and I’m REALLY excited about the art direction and production design, I wish people would quit talking about it like Ben Affleck is the Lord Almighty reigning down from on high, and that wired is responsible for bringing the (admittedly very cool) story to light, especially since this is ABSOLUTELY a remake of a made for t.v. movie from 1981.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I Use to Shoot DSLR Film/Video (A Complete DSLR Filming Equipment List)

A couple of months ago, I did a post on what I thought I would need to get into the DSLR filming game (previously having always rented/borrowed other people’s equipment).  Well now that that has happened, I think it’s time to update the idea to what I actually use on a regular basis when shooting.  I’m helping a friend put together a purchase list, so this kind of goes hand in hand with compiling the list, so I thought I’d just do both things at the same time.  Also, I think we’re going to be upgrading to a Black Magic Cinema camera soon, so this is a good way to take inventory on what will be cross-compatible (I’m pretty sure it’s almost everything except for the 7D battery grip).

  • Canon EOS 7D body
    I spent a long time deciding which Canon DSLR we’d go with.  Here is a post on the decision, but long story short, most cinematographers I spoke with actually preferred the cropped sensor, telling me the full sensor on the 5D has too much depth of field, believe it or not.  The 7D also has 60fps (for slo-mo) and TWO image processors (making it better than the 60D or T3i family).  Canon actually released a 6D at Photokina today –basically the 7D with a full-sized sensor and some more bells and whistles, but it’s $2,100 and I’m thinking the 7D is still the way to go (it’ll be interesting to see what Canon does with the 7DmkII).
  • CF Cards and case
    I try and use only SanDisk class 10 cards.  They are consistently the fastest and most durable cards available.  That said, you pay a premium for SanDisk.  I do own a few Transcend cards that have never let me down and seem to be almost if not exactly as fast. For the case… Pelican makes great CF card cases, but they are ridiculously overpriced.  I use this one from Cowboy Studio.  It holds 4 CF cards (and/or SD cards) and cost $8 vs. $25 for the virtually IDENTICAL Pelican case. Here’s a previous post I did on CF/SD cards.
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 (77mm threads)
    This lens is a must have for Canon cropped sensor users.  From what I understand, at the 16mm end of the spectrum, it can even be used with the full sensor 5D. Here is a previous post on this lens.  I don’t often make this bold a statement, but: BUY THIS LENS!
  • Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 US IS (72mm threads)
    This was the kit lens from my 40D still camera.  I don’t use it very often, but I always take it along for use in a pinch.
  • Nikon E series 50mm f/1.8 (58mm threads)
    Purchase via Craigslist for next to nothing (like $50). I actually took the lens apart and removed the click mechanism for the aperture ring to make it more like a cine lens.
  • Nikon E series 28mm f/1.2 (58mm threads)
    Same as above.
  • Vivitar 70-200mm 1/3.8 (58mm threads)
    Same as above.
  • Nikon F Mount to Canon EF mount adapters
    Every now and then you’ll get a loose one, but they can’t be beat for the price (under $10 on eBay).  I recommend buying more than you need, that way if a couple are loose, you can just toss them and still come out ahead on price. Beat in mind these won’t transfer exif data or allow auto aperature and focus.  You can pay more (quite a bit) for adapters to handle these things from the camera body, but I prefer to just control everything manually.
  • Rear Lens Caps
    I had to buy new Canon back caps for all the non-Canon lenses since I outfitted them all with Canon mount adapters.
  • Lillput 7” LCD Monitor
    Here’s my previous post on this item.  For the price ($200), you simply can’t beat this monitor.  Having an external LCD for pulling focus is essential when using sticks.  It’s a little trickier (cumbersome) when shooting hand-held.  I haven’t purchased an LCD magnifier/loupe, but I really need to.  They are essential for pulling focus hand-held, especially in bright sunlight when the camera’s on board LCD is essentially useless.
  • Extra Batteries for LCD Monitor
    Cheap and readily available via Amazon or eBay
  • Cokin P Filter Holder with adapters for all lens sizes
    I like to have only one set of filters that can be used with all my lenses, and I like not having to thread them into the end of the lens each time I use them.  This is very similar to a matte box system.
  • 85mm Square ND Filters
    You cannot shoot outdoors (in sunlight) without ND filters.  These are essential filters that (supposedly) don’t change the color cast of your shot while lowering your aperture so there is more depth of field to your shot.  These come in various darkness levels, with a “ten stop” (3.0) being the darkest glass you can get.  Here’s a previous post on the system.  I should probably update the post, since it sounds a little more negative than how I currently feel using the Cokin P size system.
  • Bolton Hard Case
    These are FANTASTIC water tight cases, and beat the PANTS OFF the price of a Pelican Case.  You can read my full review here.  I purchased two sizes, the 18” and the 20.5”.  In retrospect, I think the 20.5” is overkill for my needs.  I will likely get another 18” and use only two 18” cases for my camera(s) and lenses in the future.
  • Vivitar VIV-PG-7D Battery Grip
    When you take the battery out of the body and move it to the grip, you remove one of the hottest items from the camera setup and reduce instances of overheating (the other item being the LCD screen) .  Using the battery grip also allows you to power your camera on 8 AA’s if you’re ever in a pinch.  Bear in mind, using the grip ads girth to your camera, and will change the physical set-up of your rigs, rods, follow focus, etc. I actually ordered a different grip than this Vivitar, but the Amazon vendor ran out of the brand I bought, and they sent me this one instead.  The knob on the Vivitar that tightens the grip to the body remains loose even when the grip is tightened all the way, and thus rattles and creates some sound.  I have to tape it down to prevent this (pretty annoying).  That said, this non-OEM version is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than the Canon grip, and is virtually the same piece of equipment.
  • Extra Canon Batteries
    This is the one place where I am sure to ONLY purchase OEM.  There are too many crap batteries out there to gamble.  Canons recharge quickly, retain their charge the longest, and last considerably longer than any of the knock-offs.
  • XTG Dual Battery Charger
    I love having a charger that tells me how much charge is left on each battery (two independent LCD screens).  I also love being able to charge two batteries at a time, and the fact that it comes with a car charger as well as a wall plug is great when shooting in the field.
  • Photography & Cinema Gear Box (GB-1)
    I spent about three weeks pricing simple camera rigs/cages and pricing parts to build my own.  Even when I was thinking about just buying aluminum or steel “blanks” and drilling/threading my own holes, I was just under the price of this rig ($79 as a promotional price, but it hasn’t gone up to the “MSRP” in the two months I’ve been watching the item).  It’s a solid camera cage for a fair price (not the bloated “fake” prices from some other manufacturers charging a premium because something is “professional”), and comes in just over the price of any decent DIY rig I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a LOT).
  • Quick Release Adapters
    Having a “universal” quick release plate receiver on every device is a must for me.  I really don’t want to be messing around with threading the camera onto different equipment when I should be shooting.  By mounting a receiver plate to my crane, fluid heads, dollies, hi-hat, etc., I save a lot of time when switching the camera from one piece of equipment to another. I spent a lot of time researching which brand/system would be “the most” universal and cost effective.  I finally ended up going with P&C’s custom Fancier 717 system, because for the price of one Bogen 557, you can get THREE P&C quick-release adapters.  I haven’t used them enough (haven’t purchased the Fancier 717 fluid head yet) to say whether or not this was the best way to go.  I may still end up going the Bogen 501HD fluid head and Bogen 557/357 quick-release plates route, depending how the 717 stuff functions (if the 717 is not satisfactory, I’ll switch to the Bogen 501HDV and/or 701HDV heads).
  • Two Bogen 3046 Tripods
    These are pretty heavy duty.  I actually use one as the legs for my Kessler Krane, even at 12 feet. I don’t extend the legs though. Hopefully this is just a temporary situation.  I’m still looking for a super cheap (I don’t care if it’s really old and heavy) industrial tripod to use with the Kessler Crane.
  • Bogen 3047 & 3063 Heads
    Left over from still shooting. These use the same octagonal quick-release plates so they’re interchangeable.  They will soon leave the kit as I upgrade to fluid heads though. Actually, they’ll probably remain in the box for “emergencies.”
  • Bogen 3221Tripod w/ Bogen 3030 Head
    This smaller tripod and head get used to support an LCD monitor, either the Lilliput 7” in video village, or sometimes a larger 24” LCD for video village.
  • Hi-hat
    It’s a 16” circular piece of wood with a 3/8” bolt through the center and a quick-release plate receiver.  It keeps the camera stable when setting it on the ground or on the surface of a dolly (no sticks), etc.  It’s the best $12 you’ll ever spend.
  • Skate Wheel Dolly
    You need to build one of these.  Here’s a post on the subject.  This version is really heavy duty (you can ride on it, even with a crane on the platform) and cheap to build.
  • Ladder Dolly
    Similar to the dolly above, but a little lighter duty.  As the title would indicate, it’s a dolly that rides on an aluminum ladder instead of rails like the bigger dolly above.  This is good when you want to place your dolly higher up in the air (for a table shot, for instance) as you can simply set the ladder across two objects. (here’s a video from YouTube user “hawaiirod”)
  • Sand Bags
    For keeping light stands and tripods in place.  These can also be placed under dolly track to minimize bounce and rattle.
  • Apple Boxes
    You will invariably need to raise things up, whether it’s equipment or people.  You could always grab whatever is lying around, but it’s nice to know you have something solid and stable, and of a standardized size.
  • Utility Cart
    This cart from Harbor Freight is absolutely the best way to go.  It’s super solid and cheap, and holds a lot of weight. For under $100 it simply can’t be beat.  You could go for the larger version (36” wide instead of just 30”), but you’ll likely run into problems getting it through tighter doorways.
  • Laptop with Canon EOS software installed
    For monitoring the camera (if you don’t have an LCD monitor) and for transferring data from CF cards to hard drives.  You will also need the EOS software (previous post on subject) to install the Technicolor profile, which you ABSOLUTELY should do (previous post on subject).
  • CF/SD Card Reader
    For transferring data to a hard drive when the cards fill up
  • Clamp on Lights
    El cheapo lights that consist of a spring clamp, an aluminum reflector cone, a bulb fixture and a cord.  They’re $5 and can be attached just about anywhere (you’ll usually need to put a diffuser in front of them and/or flags around them). You can find them at Big Lots or Harbor Freight.
  • Ikea China Balls with dimmer switches
    This is the best/cheapest diffusion lighting I’ve seen.  There is no easier way to control the overall “brightness” of a set.  Make sure you purchase dimmer switches made for higher wattage loads.  If you run a series of lights (several China balls or whatever), regular dimmer switches will overheat and sometimes burst into flames (seriously). Actually, the search I just did shows that Ikea doesn’t sell the cheaper ball shape anymore, just weird shapes that are a little pricier.  However, Filmtools sells something similar (identical?) to the old Ikea balls for cheap.
  • Various Light Stands
    I always buy stands when I see them for super cheap at thrift stores and in the clearance bin.  You will eventually end up using them, so why not get them for super, super cheap instead of paying a premium in an “emergency situation?”
  • Bounce/Fill reflectors
    I found some collapsible car windshield sun deflectors (some in gold for a nice warm tint, some in silver for a more neutral light) at Big Lots for super cheap and bought them all.  You can also just use white poster board.
  • Lots of Extension Cords
    You’ll hear the term “stinger” on set.  I say extension cord.
  • Lots of Clips
    Many people use wooden clothes pins (often referred to as C47’s), but I prefer to use metal document clips like you’d get from an office supply store.
  • Cord/Accessory Bag
    For adapters, HDMI cords, and everything else that doesn’t have an “official” home.  I use an old, large, soft-side camera bag for mine.
  • Extension Cord Bag or Bin
  • Tape
    I am still looking for a good source for cheap Gaffer’s tape.  Gaffer’s tape (a heavy duty cloth tape) is WORLDS APART from duct tape, but you pay a premium.  It’s like $14 for a single roll!!!
  • Sharpies, China Markers, Pencils
  • Water Bottle
    Stay hydrated, kids!

Going over this list, I still need to buy:

  • LCD Magnifier/Loupe
  • Follow Focus
  • Fluid Head
  • 10 stop ND filter (3.0)
  • I should probably make some flags for lighting.  Currently we just drape cloth over stands.
  • Matte/Dulling Spray (for dulling bulbs and reflective surfaces)


Notice anything else I’m missing or something that’s in your kit that you couldn’t live without?  Lemme know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My List of the Best Actors of My Lifetime

  • Chris Cooper (easily one of my favorites)
  • John Cusack
  • Johnny Depp
  • Matt Damon (and not his buddy Ben Affleck –though Casey is definitely in the running)
  • Robert Downey, Jr. (I realize he’s having “fun” with his career now, but I think he deserves it after all the sh*t he’s been through --he’s also a stellar actor even though he’s made some bad ones)
  • Harrison Ford
  • Dustin Hoffman (I still love going back to early stuff like Straw Dogs and obscure things like American Buffalo –also, best Willy Loman ever)
  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman
  • Daniel Day Lewis
  • John Malkovich
  • Ian McKellen
  • Viggo Mortensen
  • Edward Norton (another super favorite)
  • Gary Oldman (what happened with Air Force One and The Fifth Element though?!)
  • Brad Pitt (he gets a Mulligan for Seven Years in Tibet)
  • Pete Postlewaite (oh, how I miss him)
  • Robert Redford
  • Ken Rockwell (another super-fave)
  • Kevin Spacey 
  • Benicio Del Toro (but what happened to this guy?!)
  • Denzel Washington (just barely made it for the plethora of bad movies amongst the good)

Then there are the “classics” that are so obvious it’s not really worth putting them on a list (Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Anthony Hopkins, Marlon Brando, etc.) I realize I included Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, who fall into this category, but it’s just ‘cause I like them so much more than those other guys!

I wish I could put Val Kilmer on this list for his portrayal of Doc Holiday in Tombstone, but he’s SO bad in everything else (except maybe Heat).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Buying Glasses Online

I don’t necessarily love having to wear glasses, but I do love spectacle fashion.  However, I’m a sensible boy, and dropping $500 on a pair of specs is not really feasible.

I’m also not a fan of most chain glasses places.  The past four or five times I’ve gone into a store here in Colorado (Lens Crafters, Pearle Vision, etc.) to try on frames, the counter is manned by some sort of quasi-meth head, frantically pushing $800 Tag Heur frames, even though I tell them 10 or 20 times I’m not interested.  Seriously, where do they find these people?  And do they get NO training in sales?  It’s like they’re TRYING to piss you off.

The last pair of glasses I purchased from a chain was a great pair of Versace Versus from a LensCrafters in a mall in IL.   I was able to actually purchase in a store because we had great Vision Coverage on our insurance plan at the time.  It’s been a while since I’ve had that luxury. The sales guy was knowledgeable and friendly.  He wasn’t pushy.  He took my face measurements and ordered frames with temples that were actually the length I needed (as opposed to simply “the way the come” like all the discount places: Costco and anything online), and when the frames arrived, he spent a decent amount of time adjusting them to my face and making sure they fit correctly.

I am willing to spend extra to get that kind of treatment, but I’m not willing to spend $300 or more on a pair of glasses when the sales person is an idiot (the past four or five times I’ve gone into a place).

I did purchase a couple of pairs of glasses at Costco before going the online route, and while they were considerably cheaper (around $120 for frames and lenses), they didn’t fit quite right, especially in the temple length.  I asked the lady behind the counter about it, and she said something like, “Yep, that’s what happens when you order from a warehouse.  The prices are lower, but you get what’s in stock, not necessarily what you need.”

So if I’m buying from a warehouse where I can’t get the frames at least “semi-customized” to fit my face, I might as well really be getting a discount, thus I turned to the internet…

Zenni Optical

Zenni has a great selection of promising frames starting at around $6.95.  I found that most of the frames I wanted were in the $12.95 to $15.95 range.  They advertise free lenses, but of course the lens "options” (higher index, anti-reflective coating, better anti-scratch coating), quickly ad up.

820415My first pair of frames came to $28.85 delivered.  That was frames ($9.95), an upgrade to 1.59 index Polycarbonate lenses ($9), anti-reflective coating ($4.95), and delivery ($4.95).

The temple on these were too long, and there was no internal metal rod in the temple piece, so I couldn’t really adjust them to fit around the back of my ear (the temples don’t bend and stay put).  They didn’t fit quite right, and usually started hurting after about an hour or two.

I had upgraded to the higher index Polycarbonate lens (a $9 upgrade), but I’ve since found out from a representative at Zenni that Polycarbonate is actually a softer material (than regular plastic), and thus scratches more easily.  I found that out the hard way; my glasses were seriously scratched… by a baby (seriously).

Not only did the lenses scratch, but the frames broke at the top of the left lens after about 9 months of light use (since they hurt after an hour or two, I only wore them when going out).

RimlessThe second pair of frames I purchased from Zenni were intended for everyday use at the computer.  I wanted the lightest frames/lenses I could get, so I ordered a pair of “memory titanium” frames with “frameless” lenses.

I don’t know where they’re mining their titanium, but if it is actually titanium, they must add egg shells to it, because these frames broke not once, but twice, in the exact same place (the bridge… by simply taking them off my head).  Last time I checked, titanium is INCREDIBLY strong, so either I’m the Incredible Hulk, or they’re lying about the frames being made of titanium.

When the first pair snapped at the bridge, I wrote Zenni, and after some back and forth (it took some effort), they finally agreed to put the original lenses I purchased in a new pair of frames… but they insisted I pay for the new frames!!!  So I sent the broken glasses back (at my shipping cost BOTH directions), but when I received the new frames back, the lenses were scratched and extremely spidered at the edges.  When I wrote to report the problem, they said this happened when they put the old lenses in the new frames.  Oh, really?  Duh.  When else would it have happened…?  And why in the WORLD would you think this makes it acceptable?!  I’m supposed to just go, “Oh, OK, my bad.  I’ll just wear them damaged since it happened while you were installing them.” [blank stare]

So at this point, I had paid for a second set of frames that I was now using with ridiculously damaged lenses (luckily the damage was just around the edges, so I could still see through the center).  No matter though, since the frames broke AGAIN in the exact same place (the bridge) after around two months of light use (I wasn’t wearing them except for at the computer since the lenses were embarrassingly scratched and cracked).

I got on the Zenni site to leave a review warning potential buyers about the faulty material of the frames.  Obviously this wasn’t titanium since it kept breaking at the bridge so easily (exact same place, twice, when simply taking the glasses off).

After leaving my review, I was contacted by Brandon at Zenni who offered to send a replacement pair of glasses (lenses and frames at no cost).  Why now?  Why did I have to go through all that after reporting the problem directly to the company in the first place (vs. finally getting a decent response by writing a negative review on the website)?!

Funny (not really) thing is, they never posted the review I wrote.  That seems extremely shady to me, especially since I was trying to let users know about a very consistent problem with the material of these particular frames. For posterity, here’s my original review (that they still haven’t “allowed” on their site):

I purchased these frames as a lightweight option for everyday wear while I work at the computer. I was excited by the "titanium memory" bridge.  I wore them for a week before they snapped right in the middle of the bridge when taking them off one night!  After some back and forth with Zenni, they agreed to put my old lenses in a new frame (but they made me buy new frames!). Well, since these are half-rim lenses, the lenses were all scratched and spidered around the edges when I got them back. They said it couldn't be helped and they wouldn't correct their mistake. HORRIBLE SERVICE in this regard.  Not only that, but about two weeks later I took off my glasses and... THEY SNAPPED AGAIN IN THE EXACT SAME PLACE (right in the middle of the "titanium" bridge)!!!  So... these frames are NOT titanium, and they WILL break easily. I'm not rough on my glasses, and I broke TWO PAIRS of these in the exact same way... simply by taking them off.

starsWhen Zenni contacted me to make reparations, I was in the process of giving them one last try.  I purchased a pair of $12.95 frames, #828415, similar to the very first ones I purchased (I’m a sucker for the little cowboy stars on the temple and front corners), except these have adjustable temple pieces (the metal rod that runs through the temple so you can bend them around your ear and they stay in place), and the only “upgrade” I made was purchasing the anti-reflection coating ($4.95).  I chose the 1.57 mid-index lens which is “free.”  With the $4.95 for shipping, my total cost was $22.85.  So far so good.  The lenses seem to be positioned correctly, and the frames are more comfortable than the previous ones I had purchased.  These are currently my everyday glasses.

So now I have a credit at Zenni, and at some point soon (before my six month time limit is up), I will choose another pair of Zenni glasses.  Hopefully the endeavor will be a success, but my initial experiences have taught me that with Zenni it’s kind of a crapshoot.

[Update] After nearly a month of back and forth, I should be receiving my replacement glasses soon.  I decided to give “rimless” frames one more shot (they are just SO light and nice to wear while working at the computer).  I had been issued a credit in the amount of the total price of the frame/lenses that originally broke (but not a credit for any of the shipping I had to keep paying for in the correction process).  I chose frames that cost a little less, so I could get the new shipping covered.  However, when checking out, the remainder of the balance was never able to be applied to the shipping (thus I was going to be paying money again for shipping).  I was not willing to give Zenni any more money for the exchange on these glasses, so I spent some time writing back and forth with Zenni, first with Brandon, and then with Michael.  Michael really worked to get things straight.  Though it was annoying that it was taking so long, he really was trying to get me what I needed (the new replacement frames/lenses AND shipping at no cost to me).  Michael notified me that he had adjusted my coupon to an amount that would accommodate the frames/lenses and shipping.  However, when I tried, it still wasn’t working.

Finally, after a couple more days of e-mail and frustration, I received a phone call from Michael –-an actual person here in the U.S.  Turns out he is the Asst. Manager of Customer Relations, and a really nice guy.  We discussed the situation, and he promised he would take care of everything immediately.  After a couple more days of “try it nows” that didn’t work, he finally got things sorted out, and I assume the new frames/lenses are currently on their way to my house (I received an order confirmation e-mail, so…).

I was surprised by this final level of personal attention.  It was great to receive an actual phone call from the company, but it was a LONG time coming after a LOT of effort and patience (and relative cost) on my part, so I’m not really sure what my final opinion is of Zenni.  I guess at the incredible discount over any chain store and even Costco’s prices, you have to expect to deal with some issues, so…

Website Usability: Navigating the Zenni website isn’t the easiest thing to do, but I do like that you can upload a picture of yourself and virtually “try on” different frames.  I wonder how accurate the sizing is, and you will likely spend some time finding a picture that works correctly with the system (a photo of your face that’s the right size and perfectly straight on).  However, it’s infuriating that they have a place to “save your prescription” since it doesn’t work… ever.  I’ve tried using the feature over and over again, but it’s never worked (it only imports part of your saved information, or it imports completely incorrect, seemingly random, information).  Thus, you have to input your entire prescription EVERY TIME you order a pair of glasses.  Not only that, but sometimes after you load your prescription in and hit the “order” button, instead of adding the order to your cart, it clears all the prescription fields and you have to enter all the information again.

Grade: C- (upgraded to a “C+” after personal phone call)

[UPDATE] My glasses (#804811 - rimless with memory titanium temples) arrived relatively quickly.  The lenses seem to be correct, and they are the most comfortable glasses I’ve ever owned.  Hopefully they last!


Warby Parker

Their website states: “Beautifully crafted eyewear for $95, including prescription lenses. For every pair sold, we distribute an additional pair to someone in need.”

Clearly aimed at hipsters (every frame is thick and clunky and the website was named after two obscure Kerouac characters (“I’m so cool I know Kerouac that you don’t!”)), these guys have a smaller selection than most other online retailers.  However, the quality of the materials (both lenses and frames) is CONSIDERABLY higher than their online competitors.

p.s. How did the hipster burn his mouth eating pizza? He ate it before it was cool.  Thanks, Miguel (who, incidentally, wears the Beckett frames in Matte Black –though he has 20/20 vision and doesn’t actually need glasses! [eye roll] Seriously.

Warby Parker’s lenses are good material (impact resistant, UV-proof polycarbonate), anti-reflective, and anti-scratch coated, and the sunglasses are all polarized.  You don’t have to “upgrade” to receive the good stuff; it’s just the way they are.  Here’s a link to the description of their materials on the Warby Parker website.

I love the fact that you can try frames on at home, but I’ve had some trouble with availability.  Often the frames I want to try aren’t available for home try-on.

After trying for several months, I finally got the selection I wanted, and these are the five pairs I tried on (the maximum number you can get at once for home try-on)…

(click image for webpage)

Beckett- Revolver Black Matte are probably my favorite style.  I really like the matte finish, and the taper of thickness of the temple pieces behind the ear make them very comfortable.  They are quite sturdy, and the five barrel titanium hinges rock (all Warby Parker glasses have these hinges).

(click image for webpage)

Huxley - Tennessee Whiskey (though “clear” are pictured) are my second favorite style and the best fit; plus they are available in clear, which is something I’ve been looking for since seeing Bruce Willis’s glasses in Moonrise Kingdom. [blush] I will probably order these in clear and also in RX Sunglasses (whiskey tortoise as seen above).

(click image for webpage)

Winston- Old Fashioned Fade (third favorite, but a little bigger (taller) than Becket and Huxley).  I love how they’re a little boxier, or more square, than what you typically see.

(click image for webpage)

Fillmore - Sandalwood Matte work for me, but they’re not a favorite (too round, I guess). Again though, I am loving the matte finish.

(click image for webpage)

Thatcher - Whiskey Tortoise are waaaaay too big, bordering on 90’s secretary glasses.  The photo doesn’t really convey this information, but believe me: they’re huge.

The Warby Parker webpage is a little annoying as far as navigation goes (long load times, strange paths you are forced to take to get where you’re going, etc.), and I did have trouble finding a couple of colors for certain frames (for instance, I didn’t realize you could “scroll horizontally” for more choices on the Huxley page and nearly missed my favorite pair of glasses!), but overall the web/navigation experience is fine.  I guess this should be expected for a smaller selection like Warby Parker’s.

Finally, unlike the other online giants, Warby Parker does have a few “showrooms” scattered around the nation, mostly in big metropolis type places, but also in Columbus, OH, oddly enough (though I think that location has a limited selection, which is funny since the selection is so limited to begin with).  So if you happen to live in a city with a showroom, you don’t have to go through the rigmarole of the “try on at home” experience to see which frames work for you!

Grade: B+

Abysmal.  Just effing horrible.

When I was getting ready to give Zenni a final shot, I was looking for online coupons and discounts (I found none for Zenni) and stumbled upon this company.  They were running a special for “free frames, all you pay for is lenses!”  Since their lenses were only $6.95 and included anti-reflective coating, I decided to give them a shot and ordered three pairs for just over $20 delivered.

I actually love the frames I received (just cheap plastic, but one pair actually had spring hinges), but the lens centers (the focal points) are almost comically placed (it’d be funny if it weren’t going to actually RUIN my eye sight).  In one of the three frames that I purchased, the left lens was around 7mm low, and the right lens was nearly 8mm high… for a difference of 15mm in the focal center of each lens!  Not only that, but the pupilary distance was 8mm off from the measurement I had ordered.  In fact, all three pairs of glasses were incorrect as far as pupilary distance was concerned. One pair 3mm, one pair 5mm, and then the aforementioned 8mm pair!

All three pairs made my head swim when I put them on, so I took them to my eye doctor to have them checked out.  He couldn’t believe how off they were!  He was actually baffled by how they could screw up that bad.  He said it was like they were trying to make them wrong (‘cause how could you misalign things to that degree?!).

I contacted the company, and in an e-mail of somewhat broken English was told that they wanted to correct the problem (but they didn’t tell me how!).  I wrote them back and asked what they meant, and they said they would replace the glasses.  However, two of the three frames I had ordered were no longer available!  Not only that, they decided for some reason that they were only going to correct two of the three pairs.

I also had to recreate all my account information, because they had “updated their site,” which I assume is code for: “for some reason, your information has disappeared from our system.  Tough luck!” since the site still looks and functions exactly the same (i.e.: horribly).

So after searching for two replacement frames, I e-mailed back with my prescription and the frame numbers.  They wrote back that I would need to log back in and select “chat” after adding frames to my cart.  So I went through that horrible process again (my prescription was loaded and lost no less than four times while trying to add glasses to the cart) and finally got to the point where I could chat with a representative to complete the order.  That took another at LEAST 45 minutes (I finally had to find a physical copy of my prescription, scan it in, and upload it to the site).

I am certain that I will receive frames with lenses that are either the wrong prescription or the wrong pupilary distance.  Ugh.  I will never order from these guys again.

The website is just awful.  They have too much product to try and organize on a website (and they’ll only show you a maximum of 30 frames per page)!  Sometimes links open a pop-up, sometimes they open in a new window (absent of all navigation controls), any time you open a new window the incredibly annoying “do you want to chat?” box chases you around the screen, the filter selections almost always disappear after you look at a pair of glasses and you have to start all over with your selections, the same frames show up many multiple times in a single search… all told, just a really horrible web experience.

These guys carry a “normal” line that starts at $4.95 (and the frames at this price are surprisingly cool), but they also offer “designer glasses” like Nicolle Miller, D&G, etc. that range from $59.95 up into the $200-$300 range.  Can you imagine spending $300 on glasses only to receive glasses with the pupilary distance 10mm off and the lenses installed all wonky?!

I would not recommend this company, unless you’re into ruining your eyes, and in that case, why not just saw the bottom off some plastic bottles and tape them to your eye sockets?

I guess if you are aware of the risk, the prices are so ridiculously low and the selection so huge that you might still give them a shot, but be sure to have your optometrist check the glasses once you receive them so you don’t ruin your eyes (and be ready to just toss any incorrect glasses in the trash, as it’s not worth the effort to get them replaced by the company  –you’d still be ahead of the game regarding price, so it might be worth it).

Grade: F

[UPDATE] It’s been 16 days since I placed my order, and still the glasses have not shipped.  These guys suck worse than a giant suck machine.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Verizon Has Been Prompting People Who Call Me to Leave a Fax

O.k.  So this is pretty annoying.  Evidently Verizon added a prompt to my voicemail message that says “press 4 to send a fax.”  I never signed up for this.  They never told me they implemented it.  And to be honest, it’s pretty F*CKING ANNOYING (especially since people have been “sending” me faxes).

My insurance agent has been faxing me things for weeks --obviously assuming that I was receiving them.

You don’t actually receive anything someone faxes to your Verizon number.  You have to set up a fax service WITH A DIFFERENT COMPANY (you’re on your own here), and Verizon simply forwards the call to that service.  I had never set up a “fax destination number”  because I didn’t even know this option was being offered to the people who were calling me!  Why the hell would I want this?!  It’s not like Verizon is giving me fax service.  To reiterate, you have to find another fax service (who will assign you a fax number), and then Verizon simply forwards anyone pressing “4” to that ACTUAL service.  If I wanted someone to send me a fax, I WOULD GIVE THEM THE FAX NUMBER I SIGNED UP FOR WITH THE COMPANY THAT ACTUALLY OFFERS THIS SERVICE. Stupid.

MASSIVE FAIL, VERIZON.  What the hell?!

You can turn the service off by dialing *86 to access your Voice Mail options.  Then listen to all your damn saved messages (evidently, there is no way to skip this).  Finally you are able to…
Personal options: press 4
Administrative options: press 2
Fax options: press 3

The Mystery of the “Universal” Quick Release Adapter

[UPDATE (11-4-14): Here is a post on the quick-release plate system I’ve been using for more than two years now.]

I have many things to which I need to mount a camera (fluid heads, a Kessler crane, high hats, table dollies, rig cages, shoulder mount rigs, etc.).  Rather than screw a 1/4” #20 thread into the bottom of my camera every time I switch devices, I would like something that makes “swapping” easier.  Luckily there is something called a universal quick release adapter; it’s basically the plate and cradle system that exists for a tripod head, but the tripod head part (the cradle) can be mounted to various objects.

The problem is, all of these “universal” systems aren’t really very universal.  They are all different sizes.  There is no standard for the size of the plate, thus you must by the whole “system” (plate and cradle) together.  There are rumors floating around that certain brands are compatible with each other (Manfrotto and Schechter, for instance), but this situation is pretty rare.  It would be nice if all the manufacturers got together and settled on a standard size for the base plate, but I wouldn’t count on this happening any time soon (meaning: ever).

I have spent hours, days, weeks even, researching universal quick release adapters trying to find the best system for my purposes.  Because I only have three cameras, I only need three plates (the thing you “permanently” affix to the camera).  However, since I have so many things to which I need to mount my camera, I need quite a few of the cradles (the part that mounts to the crane, rig, tripod head, etc.).  Thus, cost is a serious concern.  That said, I don’t want to simply go with the cheapest thing out there, because it needs to work.  I don’t want to mount my camera on a 12 foot jib arm, and have it come crashing to the ground because I had to compromise on quality/security for cost.

I would also like to maximize on the “universal” idea (buying plates and cradles that are more interchangeable with other brands and devices), but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there regarding what plates and bases play nicely with each other.

41UV5la-YkL._AA160_Most of my tripods are Manfrotto/Bogen, so my initial thought was to stick with the brand I use most often.  They are tried and true, and probably the most “known” at least semi-affordable brand in the tripod game (at least as far as still photography is concerned).  Plus, the plates that come with the Manfrotto 357 (w/357PL plate that replaces the 3273 and 3272) and 557 (w/3433PL plate) universal quick release adapters work with the 701HDV, 501HDV, 503 HDV and 526 Pro Video fluid heads, as well as the 561BHDV-1 Fluid Video Monopod with Head.  Still, this means you are buying into (and thus must stick with) the Manfrotto family (sounds like a gangster movie, huh?).

The 357 (with the longer plate included) runs around $45, while the 557 (with the shorter plate) will set you back $50.99.  I have no idea why the item with less material involved is cheaper.

416JdHWN18L._AA160_The 357 is made for larger (longer) cameras, but the longer plate has the added effect of allowing you to slide the camera forward and backward by up to 3.15 inches.  This is great for accommodating different lengths of lenses, and also for adjusting the center of balance if you are using any sort of rig with your camera. The 557 only has 20mm, or .8”, of travel.  Be aware though, many people complain about the extra length of the 357 when using DSLR’s.  For instance: the extra length of the base plate can interfere with viewfinders and battery backs in the back, and/or adjusting the focus/zoom in the front.

Though both plates fit in both receivers, evidently the 357 is slightly wider than the 557.

[update: it has been pointed out that “slightly” actually means a full 6mm; also, the receiver plates have different widths for the “grasping side plate” so the 357 and 557 are not necessarily interchangeable when using both receiver cradles.  Be sure to check the comments for more information.]

If I could purchase multiple receiver cradles (just the receiver) for a cheaper price (not paying for the plate as well), I would definitely go the Manfrotto route.

In the process of writing this post, I found this Calumet quick release plate on Amazon for $35.  All of the reviewers are saying that it is interchangeable with the plates for their Manfrotto 501’s, so… here is a less expensive quick release system, though not as cheap as the 717 system listed below.

A company I only recently became familiar with because of the very affordable DSLR Cage they are offering,, offers a quick release system called the Fancier 717 Quick Release Adapter.  The Fancier 717 wins hands down on price.  For $60 you can get THREE cradles.  Since I need more cradles (I have more devices than cameras), this is ideal.  Most other systems require that you purchase the base plate and cradle together, so you end up with all these extra base plates.  The base plate cradle combo is $25, and you can purchase the base plate by itself for around $14.

From the P&C site:

This Custom Quick Release Base is designed to work with the Fancier WF717, WF717AH, EL717, and other 717 Video Fluid heads from Weifeng or Fancier. The Quick Release Base is solid metal with one 3/8" threaded access port and two 1/4-20 threaded access ports under the base. There are also (4) 1/4-20 threaded ports on one side of the quick release plate that can be used with accessories when the receiving adapter is not mounted.

The 717 is 2 1/2'” x 3 1/8'”.

This system is also a little more “universal” in that the product is made in China and rebranded for quite a few different companies (Fancierstudio, ePhoto, Cowboy Studio, Photograpy & Cinema, and DMKFoto to name a few).  Thus, it should work with equipment from all these companies.  I think I’m actually going to buy the ePhoto 717AH fluid head ($75 on Amazon) to see if it’s useable.

61CkVVXWdQL._AA300_For what it’s worth, Zacuto offers the RC4 (which is evidently a Manfrotto 394).  This baseplate has an incredibly low profile (it’s very thin), though as you can see from the photo, it still elevates a camera considerably. By the look of it (the shape –it’s almost square with one rounded edge), I can’t imagine there’s any chance of this being compatible with anything other than itself.  Still, at only $45, the price is well within the possibility of outfitting your entire system and not breaking the bank (surprising from a brand like Zacutto, who’s prices are pretty much cost-prohibitive in every other category).

This base plate looks very similar to the Manfrotto 410PL (replaces 3271), which is only $16.95 on Amazon, so I’m not sure what’s going on there.

A lot of people seem to like the Giottos MH621 Quick Release Adapter with their Gitzo sticks, but it doesn’t seem to be compatible with other brands, so I don’t really have any interest in it (the Giotto plate is 1.8” wide and the Manfrotto plate is 2” wide).

I’ll post more info. and updates as I find them (see link at beginning of this article), but for now, I’m going with the Fancier studio 717 system.  Fingers crossed!

Research sources:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Photography and Cinema DSLR Cage

I am getting ready to make a cage for my 7D DSLR video rig.  I had been planning on using strut channel from Lowe’s with metal posts and bicycle grips.

414xUHUdm5L_largeHowever, last week, Photography and Cinema released an affordable (what?!) cage called the GearBox.  It’s $80 (currently –they have a $130 with a slash through it, so I imagine the price will go up after the “introductory period”).  I can barely build something comparable from scratch (and this comes without all the work).  Most DIY blogs with info on how to build the strut channel/bicycle grip cage say the cost will be around $50, for for $30 you’re getting a rig with pre-drilled holes and a cut out in the base so you can swap out the battery without removing the camera from your rig… and you don’t have to do all the work of building it!

While I’m talking about P&C, why the hell haven’t I heard of these guys till now?  Looking around their site, they’ve got a bunch of great (and more importantly, affordable) stuff!

7172_largeI have been trying to decide on which quick release plate system I’ll be going with, and it looks like there is a new contender with P&C’s 717 system.  Previously I was pretty sure I’d be going with the Manfrotto 577 ($51 on Amazon for the plate and release cradle), but I can get THREE cradles from P&C for $60. Hmmmm…

The Swiss Rods and Friction arms look extremely useful as well!


Link to the DIY rig on

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Replacement Ear Pads for Beyer-Dynamic DT150 Headphones

IMAG1006Why Can’t I Find Replacement ear pads for my beloved Beyer Dynamic DT-150’s?  They’ve been my go-to cans for almost five years, and while I treat them with respect, as you can see from the photo, they look like they’ve been attacked by a Wookie.

Message boards across the web are filled with similar inquiries, so there’s obviously demand.  And it’s not like DT150’s are some obscure or flash-in-the-pan set of headphones.  These are widely used in the audio engineering industry!

There are a few possibilities in the UK and elsewhere overseas, but the added expense of shipping and time for delivery is fairly prohibitive.

Even the local audio tech supply house in Boulder came up short except for these UK sources… and if I were to use them, there would be the additional cost of using the supply house as a middleman (vs. ordering direct from UK). Ugh.

There seems to be only one source in the US, a company out of TX called SJ Media Systems (though their web address is –no “s” at the end, which kind of worries me).  I did some Googling and they apparently changed ownership last year, and are working to improve their customer support image.  I sent them an e-mail.  We’ll see what comes back.  Their site is super Spartan… so generic that it looks like a scam site, and has me worried to enter credit card info.  Not only that, but the description page for this item states only an item number.  Since these pads come in vinyl, softskin, and cotton, I have no idea what they’d be sending me.  Again, I’ll see what comes back from my e-mail inquiry.

There is  conflicting information on whether or not you can make replacement pads from DT100’s (which, for some reason, seem to be readily available) work with the DT150’s.  Though some people are claiming “yes,” their credibility seems dubious at best, so I’m reluctant to take the plunge.

Hopefully I’ll have helpful information soon!

[UPDATE] While the response from SJ Media Systems came quickly (same day), and was friendly, it was disappointing.  It would seem they no longer carry the DT150 ear pads, even though they are clearly listed as available on their website.

Here is the response I received:

Dear Dan,

Thank you for your inquiry. We are indeed a legitimate site. We are currently working on site redesign and appreciate your feedback.

As for what you are looking for, unfortunately we are out of stock on that product and by the looks of it we will no longer be bringing in the Beyer Dynamic line.

I would suggest you contact, he may be able to help you out.

Good luck on your search and sorry we couldn't help this time around.

So, as of now, still no luck sourcing replacement ear pads for my DT150’s.

[UPDATE] Thanks to all who have contacted me with suggestions regarding this issue (though I will point out, everyone has suggested sellers in other countries!).  I did recently find this in a thread on

Note: Although Beyerdynamic don't explicitly state in their website that DT150 and DT100 ear cushions are cross-compatible, they actually are cross-compatible! As a matter of fact, before I bought mine I contacted Beyerdynamic Germany tech support who told me that the actual plastic cups are the exact same shape and size in both models, therefore their respective ear cushions can certainly be used interchangeably. This is good news because DT150 cushions are only available in softkin material, while DT100 cushions are available in softskin, velour, jersey and plush.

So I guess I’m gonna try a pair of DT-100 pads (not sure if I’ll do softskin, which is comfortable but pretty fragile, or if I’ll give the velour a try).  I’m a little worried about the DT100 pads being too thin and the discomfort of my ears pressing against the inside of the headphones, but we’ll see.

[UPDATE] I finally just called Sweetwater, and they were able to source and deliver the leatherette DT-150 ear pads direct to my studio for under $35.  Yay!  Meanwhile, I had purchased a set of Sennheiser HD-280’s for $99 (review here), and while I wouldn’t use them for mixing, they will be the new standard tracking phones for our studio.  At the price and sound quality they can’t be beat, and with 35db of attenuation (they are tight), they are perfect for tracking vocals and acoustic guitar and work great for keeping the noise out for drummers (not to mention they’re great for locking out sound to record field audio).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Boulder Is On Fire



Here’s the photo I took 20 minutes ago (from my yard) of a fire that just started in Boulder.  My sis-in-law called a few minutes later saying their neighborhood is second on the list of the places being evacuated.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Make Your Brain Better

“The holy grail of brain training is [. . .] physical exercise. Simple aerobic exercise, such as walking 45 minutes a day three times a week, improves episodic memory and executive-control functions by about 20 percent, finds Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.”

“Kramer finds that a year of exercise can give a 70-year-old the connectivity of a 30-year-old, improving memory, planning, dealing with ambiguity, and multitasking.”


Playing Video Games

Newsweek’s The Daily Beast gives these 31 tips for boosting your brain (I first read these in the Newsweek with “Gay Angel Obama” on the cover:

  1. Play Words With Friends
  2. Eat Turmeric
  3. Take Tae Kwon Do (get your heart going)
  4. Get News from Al Jazeera
  5. Toss Your Smartphone
  6. Sleep. A Lot.
  7. Download the TED App
  8. Go to a Literary Festival
  9. Build a ‘Memory Palace’
  10. Learn a Language
  11. Eat Dark Chocolate
  12. Join a Knitting Circle
  13. Wipe the Smile Off Your Face
  14. Play Violent Videogames
  15. Follow These People on Twitter
  16. Eat Yogurt
  17. Install SuperMemo
  18. See a Shakespeare Play
  19. Refine Your Thinking
  20. Hydrate
  21. Check Out iTunes U
  22. Visit MoMa
  23. Play an Instrument
  24. Write By Hand
  25. The Pomodoro Technique
  26. Zone Out
  27. Drink Coffee
  28. Delay Gratification
  29. Become an Expert
  30. Write Reviews Online
  31. Get Out of Town

I also like this summary on Fierce Authenticity.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Affordable Cheese Plate for DSLR Rig

When building your own DSLR rig, a “cheese plate” (basically a piece of metal with a bunch of 1/4” and 3/8” holes in it) is an invaluable piece of the equation.

As with most things DSLR, the fact that this simple piece of metal is being used for film (ooh, fancy! it should be EXPENSIVE) has driven the price up unrealistically, and cheese plates often go for more than $60 a pop (I’ve seen them listed for as much as $700 or $800!!!).


I just purchased two of the cheese plates shown above (with the added bonus of 15mm rail adapters on each) on eBay for $33 each (they are $23 without the rail adapter, and the rail adapaters are sold for $15 each) before finding a better price for a cheese plate on B&H.  The reason I didn’t find the item on B&H first is because it’s listed as a “Glidecam counter weight,” but it’s the exact same thing as a cheese plate.  So $14.95 seems to be the best price going for this item.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Show Background Video in Adobe Encore Menu

I was getting frustrated when no matter what I did I couldn’t see the background video running in my Adobe Encore cs4 title menu preview.

I searched hi and low, and the only thing I could find said I had to remove all graphics from the menu for the background video to work (this is completely untrue).

Finally, I discovered that when you are looking at the preview window in Adobe Encore, there is a little “disc” icon with an arrow pointing to the right in the top row of the preview menu on the far left hand side.  Click that icon, and the background video is rendered so that you can see it in the preview.

I put all my text and graphics back in the menu (using Photoshop), and it still works flawlessly.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 Lens

D3S_4321-950Deciding what lenses to get when setting up my new DSLR kit, the Tokina seemed like a no brainer for my ultra wide.  There were thoughts of Canon’s 10-22, but without a fixed bottom end on the aperture (the Canon is a variable f3.5-4.5), and after seeing a couple of side-by-side image comparisons (the Canon tends to stretch things at the edge of the frame), I was set on the Tokina.

However, until I started using the lens, I had no idea how AMAZING this thing is.

If you are on the fence about whether or not to make the purchase, take my word: BUY IT.  This is probably the best $699 I ever spent on anything video or camera related.  And though it wasn’t advertised on the Amazon page where I made my purchase, I actually found out that there was a rebate going on (still is at the time of this posting), and I just received my $40 back in the mail today, so I actually got it for $659.  Bonus.

It’s not often that you see a product’s price go up the longer it’s on the market, but such is the case with this Tokina lens, a testament to the demand for the product.  When this first hit the streets it was going for $100 less than today’s asking price, but even at $699 it’s still so very worth the price.

This past weekend we did a dance for the camera shoot, and one of the locations was a locker room.  The idea was to film a dancer against a long line of stainless steel shower stalls.  I had only been told about the location, and when we arrived, I was very worried that there would be no way to get the shot we wanted.  Shooting parallel down the line of the stalls obscured what we were trying to capture (the shower stalls), and shooting from the perpendicular didn’t seem feasible (I couldn’t get far enough away from the stalls).  However, once I set up the camera and put the Tokina on, I was COMPLETELY FLABBERGASTED by what could be captured, even from perpendicular.  I could only get back about 15 feet from the shower stalls, and this was sandwiched between two rows of lockers, but even so, I could shoot INCREDIBLY wide, even with my 7D’s cropped sensor (so my 11mm was actually 17.6mm).

copyright Daniel Beahm

I was actually able to capture beyond the edge of the lockers between which I was positioned (what my eye was seeing) by at least six feet on each side.  Not only that, but there was barely any distortion at the edge of the frame.  I lined up my dolly shot to creep out from between the two rows of lockers, and the lines at the edge of the frame remained parallel with almost no barrel distortion at any point (see image below).

copyright Daniel Beahm

Look at the right edge of the frame in the image below.  I can’t believe how straight the edge of that shower stall remains!  And the last shower stall to the right is like a million miles away.  Fantastic.

copyright Daniel Beahm

Long story short, I love this lens, and recommend it highly to anyone looking for an ultra wide for their kit.

Finally, just because I love the image, here’s a still from the shoot that I took with an old, super-cheap 50mm Nikon I got off Craigslist (I love what you can capture with old, crappy equipment in the world of DSLR filmmaking!).

Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Lilliput 7” Field Monitor

NOTE: While much of this review dwells on the negative, I believe that this item is ABSOLUTELY worth the purchase price, and no budget DSLR filmmaker should worry about getting something “worth the money” ($200) when purchasing this monitor.  Be sure to check the updates at the end of the post for information gained after more time using the monitor.

Here is the link to the actual item I purchased for this review:

665GL-70NP_DThough it comes with collapsible sunshade/screen protector (not like the one shown in the picture, which is rigid and doesn’t collapse), cable, battery, battery plates (2 different kinds), and charger, be aware that this particular item does NOT have HDMI out (only in).  I looked at no less than 5 similar, almost identical listings on Amazon.  The proliferation of multiple listings with very slight differences makes purchasing the exact monitor you want (the features you need), extremely frustrating.

This could be a GREAT product if the manufacturers and sellers would get their shit together.

First of all, there are like 1,000 different models (OK, actually five or ten… but when you start including similar models of the same brand, it gets up into the twenties) and combinations of features for these monitors on Amazon, so be sure to READ THE DESCRIPTION for the particular model you are buying VERY CAREFULLY (so you can argue with confidence when you need to return the item you received because it's not what you thought you were getting).  They are ALL called Lilliput 665gl-70np, but they don't all have the same features (not just accessories, but actual hard-wired, on board, hardware features)!  I can't state any clearer: even if you read carefully, you may not receive what you think you should be getting (read on).  Not only that, but even though the item TITLE states 665gl-70np, the small print (a cluttered box of text all run together in the description field) states “includes 665gl-50np.”  But in my case, it DIDN’T include the 50np, and I received the 70np.

To make matters worse, there were other models (like the 668) that are “sort of” billed as the same monitor, so you really, REALLY have to be careful what you’re buying.  The biggest (or perhaps most significant) difference between older and newer models is that the older models have an INTERNAL and PROPRIETARY (not third party) battery.  You can buy an extra battery and external charger, but putting it in the monitor requires taking the back of the monitor apart, not just simply slipping the battery on and off like with the new models.

One of the biggest differences even in the monitors with the same name is that some models have NO HDMI OUT.  I believe this is the difference between “ho/y” and “h/y” but I wouldn’t count on it (at the very least I wouldn’t count on receiving what you think you’re getting).  I went back and carefully read the block of text on the page from which I purchased my Lilliput 665-70np (or is it a 50np?), and now see that although it looks exactly like the block of description text on all the other models, "HDMI out" is absent.  I thought I was paying very close attention to all the small print, but here I am two days before a shoot with a monitor that doesn't have all the features I need (what I thought I was buying).

The thing I'm most aggravated by is the difference between 50np and 70np, and the fact that most of these offerings on Amazon are listed as BOTH models (again, 70np in item title, 50np as what’s included)!  First of all, there is a question concerning the brightness.  Is my screen as bright as what I thought I was purchasing (450cd/m2) or is it only half that?  The 70np is NOT 450cd/m2 as advertised.  Only the 50np is that bright.  You can only find this out once you receive the item and read the manual, but the 70np model is NOT 450cd/m2 as advertised.  It is only 250cd/m2.  Evidently only the model 50np is brighter, and it still DOES NOT achieve 450cd/m2 (it's only 400).

On top of that, the 70np is 1024x600 with a contrast ratio of 700:1 but the 50np is 800x480 with a contrast ratio of 600:1.  For some reason, the 70np has a wider viewing angle (145 vs. 130 on the 50np --though the Amazon listings claim 150 degrees).

The size of the 50np is 151mm x 116mm x 39.5mm and the 70np is 194.5mm x 150mm x 38.5mm.

(this information is all from the "manual" I received with the monitor I purchased)

I should point out again, some of the Amazon listing pages state "70np" in the bold item title, while the description states that you will receive the "50np."  But here's the kicker: you have NO WAY TO KNOW which item you received, because the model number is written NOWHERE on the unit.  The serial number alludes to 665 and also 70, but it doesn't tell you if you have the 50np or the 70np (I assume the 70 means I received the 70np).  So, on THIS PAGE, the item clearly states it's a 70np, but in the item description is states under INCLUDED: "Product 1× 665GL-50NP/H/Y."  So which is it?!  My serial number starts 665A70... thus I assume it's a 70np (not the 50np I paid for).

Unfortunately I HAVE to have this for several shoots this weekend, so even though it doesn't have all the features I want (and ordered), I have to keep it.  Luckily, it's relatively cheap, but if I'm spending over $200 I'd really like to know that I'll be receiving what I ordered (and spent a week researching).

I would likely give this item four stars if it had HDMI out and was 450cd/m2, however, I'm not sure how I can purchase the monitor I want and be sure that I will receive the correct item (all the listings on Amazon are a mishmash of information).

So be aware: It's a great price for a field monitor, but as you can imagine, it's a crap shoot as to what you'll be receiving.

I have seen a few reviewers claim that the picture doesn't fill the screen.  Solution: you have to disable all the "extras" on your camera LCD by pressing the "info" button.  Only when there are no extras showing (exposure, etc.) will the image fill the screen top to bottom on your monitor.  It still won't fill the width, because your camera's LCD (what the monitor is reading from) isn't 16x9.

Also, the 668 had an issue with 3 seconds of blue screen or black-out when switching from live mode to record (because Canon’s switch from HD out to SD out when entering recording).  There is a way to override that with the 668, but the issue seems to have been eliminated altogether with the 665 (I haven’t run into the issue).


  • obviously the price
  • size is good (big enough to pull focus; small enough to ride your camera's flash shoe)
  • sharp enough picture to pull focus in the field (color is abysmal actually, after a week of use, I find that the color isn’t bad –-but I wouldn’t use it for adjusting my camera’s color); image quality is not STELLAR, but it's good enough; pulling focus with a 3x magnifying eyepiece would likely be more precise, but this is definitely a decent option
  • light weight (light enough to mount on the camera and still be plenty useable)
  • uses readily available (although outdated) camcorder batteries
  • the sunshade is a newer model that DOES actually fold down (not a rigid box that would be annoying to transport)
  • not only that, but the sunshade can fold down while attached to the unit, so it acts as a screen protector, which is great
  • included shoe mount isn't stellar, but it gets the job done (after a week in the field, my opinion of this mount has definitely dwindled; I’m not sure a different shoe mount would be any better though –-read more in updates below)
  • tripod threaded mount on bottom and side (for side mounting)


  • The manual is a hilarious joke (except it's not funny).  It was obviously written by someone who just barely speaks English, thus a lot of it makes no sense, is uninformative, and will only leave you wondering what the *%^&#$ is going on.  For instance: what the eff is "blue mode?!"
  • Build quality, while fine for the price, is definitely a little on the flimsy side.  It's definitely cheap plastic (but that's why it's so cheap)
  • No HDMI out (on the particular item I received)
  • Extremely confusing and misleading item descriptions for various models that vary only slightly and have the EXACT same name and number

UPDATE: Upon further review of the "manual," there are photos of two models shown ("1" and "2") 1 is supposedly the 50np and 2 is the 70np.  The photo of the 50np shows that it only has two knobs on the front as well as a 1/8" headphone jack.  "Ah, I must have the 70np," I deduced.  However, the 70np clearly shows 8 capped video connectors on the back of the unit, with only 6 on the 50np.  However, while my unit has NO headphone jack and FOUR knobs on the face, there are only six capped connectors on the back.  Thus, I still have NO IDEA which unit I received.  This is also further confirmation that there are many, many configurations of these units, and it's anyone's guess as to which models feature what hardware, connections, controls, dimensions, panels, brightness, etc., etc.

NOTE: Some of the review above is taken from my initial Amazon review.  The seller actually contacted me and asked me to change my review of the item, and additionally the review I left for the seller.  I let them know I would be happy to oblige once they had updated their listing with correct and truthful (not misleading) information laid out in a way that was easy to read and understand.  I also let them know that the burden of returning the item (and all that that entails: postage, repackaging, going to the shipper, shipping, time without the item, etc.) should be on them, not on me.  I shouldn’t be the one who has to suffer for their misleading and “not exactly true” item description.

UPDATE (4/7/12): I’ve been using this monitor in the field for a bit now, and while I’m still very disappointed in how the item is listed on Amazon (extremely confusing and misleading), there is no question that this monitor is ABSOLUTELY worth the purchase price of $200.  In fact, I’ll likely buy a second one, though I’ll be sure that the second has HDMI out so I can daisy chain them (one for the camera operator, one for the director in video village).

One thing that is important to note, and I assume that this is the case with any field monitor of this size, if you are shooting outdoors, the monitor acts as a wind sail and will cause a LOT of camera motion unless you have an incredibly stable monitor and head (even then, I have doubts about being able to eliminate camera shake when mounted to the camera flash shoe).  I used a pretty heavy duty tripod and head for a recent outdoor shoot (Bogen 3046 with a 3047 head), and no amount of tightening would prevent camera shake when shooting outside, even in just a slight breeze. From now on, I will be using a second tripod to mount the monitor when shooting outside (this is of course less of an issue when shooting hand-held).

Also, some reviewers have been confused by the “power” button on the face and the on/off switch on the back.  The power button on the face is more like a standby, and just turns off the screen.  The switch on the back controls power for the whole unit.  The way the buttons light up when unplugging and plugging cables, turning the camera on and off, etc., is pretty intuitive, and you get the hang of it after using the monitor for a bit.  I’m not sure that using the “standby” power button is worthwhile, as it takes about the same amount of time for the monitor to “come alive” and communicate with the camera regardless of whether you use the button on the front or the switch on the back.