Proper Coffee

In an ideal world I prefer not to direct and DP the same project. I want to really focus on one job and do it well and not fight spliting my time between roles. Sometimes you just don't have the budget to hire a cinematographer. So when I started working on this project I tried to keep things as simple as possible when it came to production. We had to shoot while the shop was open due to scheduling. Another reason I wanted to keep our set ups simple. The reason I could get away with minimal lighting was because the store front was completely made up of windows that allowed in some great light. The biggest challenge was not what lights to use, but what do we use to shape the existing light.

Dolly Shots

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To start the day I wanted to get the most complex shots out of the way, and these were two dolly set ups. We used a 12x12 quarter grid to slow the light coming in the far background window. Then we added a 4x4 quarter grid on a C-stand so we could move it around our hero just to soften the light on him a bit.

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Close Ups

We moved in for close ups next. Basically my plan was to move the camera counter clockwise around the room. I was trying my best to be efficient with our set ups. We had a small crew, but skilled. Here we added a Quazar to increase the reflections off of the espresso machine and back light the steam. We didn't need a ton of light so we only used one.

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Flag Montage

This set up was simply modified from what we already had going on in the room. We moved the 4x4 quarter grid in close to our subjects to create a softer look and then put a 4x4 floppy on the opposite side for negative fill. The key was not to nudge the camera because I wanted a very quick locked down montage of differnt people and drinks.

Over the Shoulder

We moved our 12x12 quarter grid to the other side of the room for the slo-mo, handheld, over the shoulder shots. We used the 4x4 quarter grid with a Quazar to supplement the existing light. We were further from the windows now and needed a bit of punch on our talent. Not shown in the lighting diagram are a couple of floppies outside which were used to block light on the back wall to slow its exposure. See the pic below. We also turned the 4x4 set up about 45 degrees on the reverse angles to better light our hero. 

Marco Shots

Finally we ended the day with a series of high speed (120fps) macro shots. I knew our crew could start packing up gear not in use as I shot. I built a small on location studio in the corner of the shop and used a couple of Quazars to top and side light the drinks I was working with.

Gear Used

Here's a list of what gear was used during the shoot:

Conclusion

We knocked out all five of these set ups in one day. In the story Noah talks about making coffee at home. So I scouted his apartment and knew I could shot what I needed by myself. I essentially blacked out three of four windows in his kitchen and used only one window as a side light.

I'm really happy with how this project turned out. My buddy Dave Docimo, a talented director, edited and color graded it and I added the sound design. Not every project you showcase, but this is one project our production company, Wavelengthfilms, is proud of. We'll have more BTS pics up on the site soon.

If you have questions please feel free to ask.

Anton Bauer Digital 90 Review

Batteries aren't the most sexy thing to review, but hey, we all need power for cameras, EVF's, monitors and the like. Without them we can't shoot. So I've been using the Anton Bauer Digital 90 for the past year. It's the latest design that A/B released back in 2014. For context purposes I'll let you know I've used these batteries with the Sony A7s (a bit of an overkill for that camera) and the Canon C300 MkII. It has preformed well for me so far. Having an external battery gives me more run time with my cameras and I don't have to change batteries as often with the manufacuture's smaller battery options.

The new design of the A/B Digital 90 is slightly bigger than expected, which is odd. Newer designs are usually smaller in the increasing digital age. However, Anton Bauer chose to increase the size for safety reasons. The bigger casing allows for the lithium ion cells to be individually wrapped, which prevents the potential of fire or blowing up. Despite the increased size the new design is actually lighter. This is always nice if you're a camera op.

I use the Digital 90 to simultaneously power my C300 MkII and the Zacuto Gratical Eye.

Some of the other improvements in the new design are the digital read out is simpler and clearer to read. The exterior has a rubber coating for easier handling and impact absorption in case you drop it. Another new feature is a built in P-tap. This is a big deal. If I need to run another device off of my battery I don't have to buy a dedicate battery plate or a distribution box. It all depends on your needs, but I find myself using this feature to power an on camera monitor when needed.

The on battery p-tap is located on the right side of the battery for easy access.

The large digital display window makes it easy to see how much power remains.

Some of the cons on the new design are the awkward shape and bulky size. I assume it's for ergonomics. I wish the design was smaller verses bigger, but safety first, right?

If you fly a lot be aware of the restriction limiting two of these batteries in your carry on during air travel. One on your camera and another in your carry on. This is fairly limiting compared to the PAGlink battery which is TSA approved and unlimited in quantity in a carry on. However, Anton Bauer just updated their Quad Charger so one can discharge batteries for airline travels. Here's a link to their press release for more info.

I also use the Digital 90 with my SmallHD AC7 OLED monitor, wireless transmitter and the Wooden Camera Director's Cage. This set up allows me to wander around a location easily and freely without using cables. I hate cables. The A/B Digital 90 preforms well with this set up.

One really impressive feature of this battery is the recharge time. It's on of the shortest recharge times on the market. At least from the research I've done. Here's a great video comparison of various battery bricks if you really want to dig deep into comparisons: watch here.

My experience with the A/B Digital 90 has been good. The cells on this battery are supposed to last a very long time and the price is competitive with other offerings on the market (they sell for $269.10 at B&H). There are far more competitors now days in the external power business and I think A/B sees that.

When surveying DP and Camera op friends I find an overwhelming majority of them use Anton Bauer batteries. The company has a long standing reputation for quality and their customer service seems to be top notch.

Follow Focus Gears

For the past year I’ve been using seamless follow focus gears made by Sean at followfocusgears.com so I decided I would do a quick review. I hope it helps you if you are searching for a seamless gear solution.

Go Seamless
Most of the cheaper follow focus gears out there have some sort of stop or joint where the two sides of the gear meet. However, this joint eventually ends up hitting the follow focus gear, and I find this annoying. (If you use Canon glass you know what I mean.) After switching to a seamless solution, I no longer have this issue. It’s one less thing I have to worry about when shooting, and this lets me focus on more important things like composition, light, etc.

I use my Canon 24-70mm more than any other lens I own. A seamless gear is a must in my opinion.

I use my Canon 24-70mm more than any other lens I own. A seamless gear is a must in my opinion.

Cost
For the past few years I’ve used Zacuto’s universal ZipGear. I use them for when I rent lenses so I can add a removable gear when needed, but the connector used to tie the gear ends together gets in the way on EOS glass. Zacuto’s Zip Gears run for $68 and followfocusgears cost $35 on average. There are still cheaper gears out there. Wide Open Camera makes a gear that uses zip ties to hold the gears in place which cost $21.

An example of how a follow focus with a connector can jam a follow focus gear.

An example of how a follow focus with a connector can jam a follow focus gear.

Lenses
I have a followfocusgears.com gear on every lens I own. I use my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 more than anything for run and gun shooting. I think a seamless gear is a necessity on this type of lens.

I also use Zeiss ZF primes when shooting narrative type stuff and interviews. Although the Zeiss glass has hard stops, I still prefer a seamless gear as opposed to jointed gear because of stability. Any gear that is tied around a lens will eventually loosen up and slip. I haven’t had this problem at all with followfocusgears.

This is my Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZF mounted with a followfocusgears.com gear. Note how low profile the gear is.

This is my Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZF mounted with a followfocusgears.com gear. Note how low profile the gear is.

Conclusion
I highly recommend trying out one of Sean’s lens gears. I gave one a try and then put them on all of my lenses. If you can’t find a gear for a lens you own on Sean’s site, just contact him and he can make a custom gear for you.

For all the tech specs you need check out his site: followfocusgears.com

Here’s a project I shot using followfocusgears. They came in handy when I was shooting handheld dolly type shots.

Gripper Review

I've been using the Zacuto Gripper for the past couple of months and thought I'd do a quick review. The first thing I need to say about this battery system is it's very affordable! It only costs $260 for a 75W battery and $90 for the charger. That's a huge win for anyone in the market for an external power solution. I've used it mostly with my Sony A7s to power the Zacuto Gratical Eye EVF, but could also see this as a way to power my camera with the appropriate P-tap dummy battery

The Gripper is fairly light weight (1.5 lbs), at least compared to my Anton Bauer Digital 90 (2 lbs). It has two P-taps, one on the front and another on the back, as well as a LED fuel gauge so you know how much power you have remaining

The Gripper mounts horizontally to a rig via two 15mm rods and has two P-taps so you can power multiply devices.

The Gripper mounts horizontally to a rig via two 15mm rods and has two P-taps so you can power multiply devices.

One thing I really like about the Gripper system is I don't need any accessories to mount it to my rig besides a couple of 15mm rods. There's no need for a cheese plate and you don't need a battery mounting plate, which usually runs you anywhere from $150 to $300. So when I use the Gripper it's much easier to work with, which saves me time.

Another huge win is this battery is UN approved so you pack it in your carry on luggage and can fly with it.

Who will get the most out of the battery system? I really see the Gripper being used mostly by folks shooting with DSLR's, mirrorless cameras and smaller prosumer cameras like the Canon C100 MkII. If you are using larger cameras like the Alexa or any RED camera you are probably going to use a gold mount or V-mount system. The Gripper is perfect for a small to medium sized rig. If you are like me, and have invested in a Zacuto Recoil rig the Gripper is a great add on.

The Zacuto Gratical Eye powered via the Gripper and mounted to the Indie Recoil.

The Zacuto Gratical Eye powered via the Gripper and mounted to the Indie Recoil.

Cine-Mod

I started collecting Zeiss ZF lenses a few years ago and just recently decided to cine-mod three of them myself so I scoured the internet to find a video tutorial. I found a few, but none that addressed Zeiss Planner T glass. I thought I would share what I learned and hopefully help anyone else interested in de-clicking a ZF lens themselves. It really isn’t that difficult.

The main part of cine-modding a stills photography lens is to de-click the aperture. This allows the iris of the lens to be opened or closed without clicks between f-stops. It’s ideal for making exposure changes on the fly while shooting as well as making micro adjustments between stops.

It can be intimidating opening up a lens, but if you take your time and follow a few simple steps it’s not too difficult. If you don’t want to preform a cine-mod yourself you can always send your lenses off to Duclos Lenses to have them modded. Depending on what you want done it can cost between $60 – $400 per lens. *Note price comparison at bottom of this post.

Here are the lenses I’m collecting:

Six Steps to De-clicking a Lens

1. Remove Lens Mount

Using a jewelers philips head screwdriver remove the 3 or 4 screws on the back of the lens mount. I suggest using a screw driver with a magnetic tip. This will keep the tiny screws from falling out and rolling away from you. Use a small cup or bowl to store parts that you will need for reinstallation.

2. Remove Aperture Ring

With a firm grip remove the aperture ring slowly. The ball bearing that you want to remove for de-clicking will either stick to the ring or lens. This helps avoid dropping the tiny ball bearing into the lens and possibly getting it wedged into an unwanted area. Once you located the bearing use the tip of your magnetic screwdriver to remove.

3. Apply Grease to Aperture Ring

Adding grease to the inside of the aperture ring helps create resistance when the ring is reinstalled. If you don’t dampen the aperture ring you’ll find it can move too easily while shooting and this can really mess with your exposure.

Finding the right kind of grease can be a pain. After spending hours searching the four corner of the internet I couldn’t find a straight answer on what brand of grease to use. Most people recommend silicone, but it’s not clear what brand. There was a lot of debate in various forums about automotive grease, but there’s no clear answer. So when I went to order my adapter rings from leitax.com I found a lens grease that worked for my purposes.

If you know of a grease brand and where it can be ordered, please let me know! I’ll be happy to share the info with the world so others won’t have to go through the agony of research to figure this out. Plus, ordering lens grease from Europe is not ideal if you can find it easily in the U.S. or locally.

I used a flathead screw driver to apply a thin coat of grease to the inside of the aperture ring. It’s better to start with less than to have too much. You do not want excess grease oozing into your lens! But if you find you’ve added too much you can always wipe away the excess.

4. Reapply Aperture Ring

Once you’ve applied the grease you can put the aperture ring back on the lens. Make sure the f/stop numbers on the ring are oriented correctly. Pull back the iris lever (I don’t know the official name, but it’s the long metal piece that sticks out the back of the lens. When pulled you’ll see the iris blades open). Keep the lever pulled back as you push the aperture ring down on to the lens. This will allow the ring to slide all the way down into place. If you don’t do this the ring will not set correctly. It will make more sense when you actually have the lens open.

Test the aperture ring by turning it back and fourth. Make sure it has enough tension. If it doesn’t, remove the ring and add more grease. If it has too much tension remove the ring and remove grease. It’s all personal preference.

5. Reinstall Lens Mount

Realign the lens mount and put the screws back in.

6. Add Leitax Adapter Ring

Since these are Nikon F mount lenses they do need an adapter to convert them to Canon E Mount. I found that Duclos uses Leitax adapters in their ZF modifications. Leitax adapters are pretty pricey (around $80) to use this type of adapter, but they are very high quality and once installed there is no give between the lens and camera. Plus, you are saving yourself the cost of labor if you install them yourself. The instructions on Leitax’s site are very straight forward. Essentially you are lining up the adapter, installing a plate, and then the adapter on top.

Other elements you can add to further cine-mod your lenses are to add a follow focus ring. I use seamless rings made by followfocusgears.com. You can see a full review here.

I also prefer to add a front 80mm Cine Ring for clamp on matteboxes and push on Kaiser lens caps. These are way easier to manage than the clamp on caps that come with stills lenses.

 

You can also add a better rear cap made by Op/Tech that has a rubber O ring that helps keep out dust and moisture. They are a bit harder to remove and put back on thanks to the internal ring, but are superior than the tradition Canon rear cap. They only cost $9.

*DIY Comparison
Doing a lens modification yourself will save you money. A complete mod like this will cost you $400 from Duclos. Here’s a break down of each item to help understand what you save.

Cine Ring – $29
Kaiser Push On Cap – $12
Op/Tech Rear Cap – $9
Follow Focus Gear – $35
Adapter Mount – $80
Total: $165

Compared to Duclos that’s a savings of $235 for about an hour’s worth of labor. Of course the parts are not identical to what Duclos uses. For example, their focus gear is not 3D printed and is made of a solid plastic (I’m guessing from some sort of plastic moulding). So there is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison thing going on.

I hope this tutorial helps you with modifying your own lens mods. Of course it’s your decision to make these modifications and I take no responsibility if you damage your lenses. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.