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.