The Vocas Spider System is an upcoming lightweight, portable and modular support system for DSLR’s and small factor camcorders. But how is it different from other solutions out there? There is something to be said about using the name Spider for a product name in the camera world. Perhaps the image of multileggedness is meant to invoke a sense of stability and versatility in the mind of the consumer or something. There is already a camera holster, and not one but two shoulder rigs for DSLRs, both by SHAPE and the oft-rebranded cheapo Spider Steady rig. Well, Vocas is the latest addition to the arachnid party, with a Spider system of their own. The Vocas Spider System provides multiple points of contact. At first glance, the Vocas Spider System shares a great similarity to the Zacuto Marauder foldable rig due to its compact, portable nature and rifle-style shoulder stock. However, Vocas goes a step further, as their system is not only portable, but also much more versatile. The core of the system is the Spider universal camera base, that serves as a hub to the system. Although it doesn’t feature a quick release system, it includes an anti-rotation pin, so installing the QR system of your choice shouldn’t be much of a problem. Underneath the baseplate is a tube that serves as an axle on which to attach the Vocas arms. These can be extended from 165mm to 235mm, and the ends provide standard rosettes on which to fasten the individual accessories. The accessories introduced in this system are the handgrip, the shoulder brace (rifle stock) and belly brace. These are rubberised for comfort and, due to their rosette connection to extendable arms, can be configured to accommodate many different kinds of body types. They are also compatible with Vocas’ wooden handles. Multiple configurations: basic, extension bar and two-handed. A longer Spider tube can also be attached under the baseplate to extend the length of the system horizontally and introduce, for example, a second handle for two-handed operation. A complete rig could in theory offer up to five points of contact (two handles, belly, shoulder and against your face if your camera has an eye cup) meaning it could certainly serve to reduce the micro jitters inherent to hand-held footage from smaller cameras. But the keyword here is “smaller”, as support systems that don’t provide a counter weight over the shoulder will inevitably cause your arm muscles to fatigue after a while when adding accessories like rods, matte boxes, follow focuses, longer lenses, etc. The Vocas Spider System will be available as a starter kit including a handle and shoulder brace for €795, with each additional arm at a price of €195 and extra handles and braces for €120. We hope to know more about this product, including materials, dimensions and weight, closer to its expected release date in July 2016.Read more
When I had a chance to check out a very early model of the new Sony FS7 in an exclusive hands-on in London in August (we reported about it before with the hands-on video – click here), I already knew that this camera had the potential to shake up the industry significantly. F5-like quality at half the price, built-in professional 4K (XAVC codec) in a professional shoulder-mount camera for much less than the still extremely popular Canon C300 (still one of my favourite cameras) – in one word: impressive. A few months later, after it has been officially introduced at IBC in Amsterdam in September, Sony has started shipping the camera and was kind enough to send a loaner for testing. As often with these things, we only have access to them for a small number of days and these days need to coincide with my availability to actually shoot something, as well as a feasible story that can be shot at that exact time. As it happened, it was around for three days and I had only half a day available for shooting, so I had to do what was possible in the short amount of time. Thanks to my friend & director Tamás Kiss, we were able to join a special “expedition” to the top of Vienna’s major landmark, St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Very rarely, the people in charge of the Cathedral allow major sponsors that help financing renovations of the building to to climb the outside of the Cathedral with professional climbing instructors and of course the appropriate professional gear – all of course while taking care of the fragile Gothic features of its facade. Due to the the circumstances of this shoot this review should be mainly be judged for the handling and the usability of the camera, rather than picture quality: we were only provided with one 32GB card of Sony’s XQD cards and I couldn’t organize another one on short notice, so I had to switch to the inferior version of the XAVC codec (XAVC L – the long-gop version of Sony’s new codec), in order to have at least about 30 minutes of recording time. Dealing with XAVC L in post was a bit of a nightmare for Támas when he edited as most editing applications can’t take the new version of this codec yet. Only Premiere Pro CC 2014 was able to deal with it at the time of writing. It was extremely hard to fit the camera rig and equipment through the very narrow inside of the Cathedral staircase and some windows we had to climb through. In the end, I wasn’t able to climb the roof itself with the camera because of security concerns of the staff – unfortunately I didn’t have my Sony A7s with me, which would have been perfect for this job. Therefore, you have to make due with the photos the climbers took with their GoPros on top of the Cathedral. But back to the camera: It was a run-and-gun sort of shoot, meaning that with little preparation, we had to go there and use the camera more or less “as is”, with its built-in handle and grip, directly on the shoulder. And that worked very well. It’s nice to have a camera that can be put on your shoulder without adding additional pieces, and the design of the grip fits a lot of different hands very well. The added controls are a further plus, and will be even more relevant once Sony’s new 28-135mm f/4 E-Mount servo zoom ships, because the zoom and many other functions will be controllable via the grip. It’s easy to see that Sony engineers might have been stuck with a dilemma when designing the camera: on one hand, most cameraman keep telling them that properly balanced cameras have to sit on the shoulder. On the other hand, everybody wants a small camera – but those two things are hard to combine. Sony ended up building a camera that is considerably longer than one of its competitors, the C300 – but if you look at it closely, you realize that half of the camera seems “empty” – there is a huge empty space at the back which is were the battery goes, which goes half way into the camera. It seems much bigger than even Sony’s biggest battery, because the optional V-Lock adapter also needs a lot of space. It also seems like most of the electronics of the camera are built into the front of the device. All that has an effect on the weight distribution of the camera, making it quite front heavy. Add a lens to that, and you have an extremely front-heavy camera, even if only a comparatively light prime lens (like a Zeiss Cinema Prime) is attached. The center of gravity seems to be around the lens mount with light lenses. The most obvious solution is to use Sony’s optional V-Mount adapter and attach a V-Lock brick battery to it, which makes it “kind of” balanced with many lighter lenses, also photo zooms. For the test shoot, I used the V-Lock adapter with a V-Mount battery and it worked a treat. The camera needs very little power and lasts forever with a large V-brick. However of course, it makes the whole rig even bigger and in total it’s similar to an F5 or F55 in size. The shoulder pad on the camera is too far back for most intents and purposes due to the center of gravity being so far in front in most usage scenarios. Considering the fact that the center of gravity changes depending on what lens or battery you use, it’s also not good that it can’t be moved at all. Sony probably knew that and so they made the pad extremely small, which makes it easy to attach yet another optional shoulder mount solution (which can be moved) at the bottom. There goes the out-of-the-box approach once you start building things up again. If you want to use rods for a follow focus or matte box, you of course also have to add a base plate, there is no rod housing build into the camera. But that can’t really be expected of the camera of course. It’s great that Sony includes a quite decent viewfinder with the package offering all the shananigans including peaking, zebra and histogram. The resolution isn’t the best (940×560 pixels) but good enough for decent focusing in most cases. LUTs can be applied to the preview image too. However the mounting mechanism of the viewfinder lets a lot to be desired and I can clearly see how this will become a major point for accessory manufacturers to improve on. The viewfinder attachment loupe also reaches too far back, which makes balancing the camera even harder as you have to move it forward on your shoulder quite a bit to see through the viewfinder. The loupe can be flipped up to reveal the screen. My friend Dan Chung has attached an adapted Zacuto Z-Finder to his FS7 instead of the standard loupe as it’s much shorter and allows for better balancing on the shoulder with the setup (read his review here, it’s very extensive too and covers some other great points about the camera). In typical Sony fashion, there are loads of buttons on the side of the camera body, and the layout needs some time getting used to in the beginning. There are some assignable buttons that are already pre-assigned with some functions, e.g. the high speed recording option. Unfortunately, I managed to hit the button by accident when squeezing through one of the Cathedral’s tunnels to get up on top, and accidentally recorded some shots in slow motion – which is recorded without sound. I think these buttons should ask for some kind of confirmation if you hit them once before the function is actually initiated. If you want to switch frame rates and resolutions you are forced to go deep into the menus as usual with most Sony cameras, though I am sure most of these functions can be assigned to buttons as well. After I wrapped the test shoot, my friend Tamás went back to shoot the slow motion stuff on the ground on the next day (when it didn’t rain) before we had to return the camera. He mentioned that he felt the joystick on the handle to react a bit sloppy at times, but he liked the the three-step ISO/Gain switch on the camera (which is very common for Sony broadcast cameras). Conclusion Considering the price of the camera it’s incredible how much is offered with the FS7 – internal XAVC 4K, proper high speed recording with up to 180 fps in 1080p interally, a nice shoulder grip – Sony managed to put in a whole lot of value into a very inexpensive camera. Canon have to step up their game now, probably with a 4K version of their C300 camera at some point in early 2015. Having said all that, the FS7 falls a bit short of being the killer documentary camera simply due to handling and usage issues, which range from problematic balancing to the sheer complexity of the menu and button layout. However, it’s no small feat that Sony has attempted there, and something that even higher end cameras haven’t really completely nailed yet – so please take this assessment with a grain of salt and accept that it’s Sony’s first attempt to build a small docu cam with interchangeable lenses. It can’t compete with the likes of an Amira for sure but that’s also not what it was built for. FS7 “Shooting Solo” webinar Sony has invited me alongside many other industry professionals (Den Lennie, Emmanuel Pampuri, Tom Swindell, …) to host another free webinar from their Pinewood Studios venue in London this coming Wednesday at 12pm GMT to talk about “shooting solo” with their FS7. I can share a lot of thoughts about that now, as you can read above – and don’t worry, I’ll talk about all the positive and negative sides that I encountered (cinema5D or I are not paid for this webinar!). Also, the winner of the FS7 competition (we reported about it here) will be announced live there. You can sign up to watch it live by clicking here. A recording of it will likely go online a few days after the live broadcast.Read more
Last week we took a close look at the AMIRA, the newest camera by Arri that is aimed at serious “documentary style” shooters, with a focus on ergonomics and incorporating the famous sensor from the more expensive and more heavy ALEXA camera. This week I’d like to share my experience shooting the live music video for Sophie Abraham we recently created with the Arri AMIRA. This production was executed very spontaneously, without pre-production and a crew consisting of myself and 1-2 assistants, all quite literally in the “documentary style” spirit which the AMIRA is promoted for. A little more time and planning would have helped to make the shots more consistent, but we couldn’t afford that as there was no budget for this test video. A great chance to put the camera into a stressful shooting situation. Note that not only video, but also audio was recorded directly in camera. We used minimal lighting (1x Arri 1200W HMI, 2 Dedolights with 1 gobo projection lens (background stripes)). The video was shot in 2 (half) shooting days. Weight vs. Ergonomics As mentioned in our video review (part 1) weight can be an issue as the AMIRA with its 5kg weighs a lot more than other super35mm sensor cameras like the FS700 or the C300. This also forces you to use heavier accessories. For the music video I used 4 V-mount batteries and a charger which got me through the (half) day, 4 Zeiss CP2 lenses 21mm, 35mm, 50mm macro and 135mm, a dolly (Camdolly) and the Sachtler Cine 7+7 tripod. These were all great accessories, but they are all a class more expensive and more heavy than the basic stuff you can use with the alternative cameras mentioned. For example I could not use a basic slider or a small tripod as they would both collapse underneath the camera. Working with more advanced and more heavy tools however also adds steadiness and smoothness to the shots as you may know. The Camdolly we used is a very modular and comparably lightweight and affordable (about $4000) dollying tool that you can even setup to sit on with your camera as it carries up to 200kg. For our purpose sliding the camera was enough and setup time was very quick. It took about 3 minutes to move from one shot to the next. Still, the Camdolly box and all the other boxes cannot be carried by one person. You should keep in mind you need a crew of at least 2 or 3 people to shoot with the AMIRA plus accessories. On the shoulder Of course, when you only plan on using the camera on your shoulder then all you need is the single box the camera comes in, sufficient V-mount batteries and your lens(es). This can ideally all go into two normal flight cases and can be carried by a single person. Also handheld is where the Arri AMIRA really shines. I complemented the ergonomic design in the video review and I must say again, that having the Arri AMIRA on the shoulder is wonderful. The sliding adjustments, no setup time, the nice OLED EVF and the convenient user buttons and switches on the side make for an experience a cameraman like myself won’t forget. I could have carried it on my shoulder all day and I’m looking forward to working with the camera again on a shoulder-only project. I hear Arri is already working on additional accessories and upgrades to make the camera even more perfect for shoulder work. As a handheld setup I used the Vocas handgrips on a pair of fibre rods and an MFF-1 follow focus. Lenses for Handheld I only used CP2 primes and I especially felt the Zeiss CP2 50mm macro lens added a lot to this shoot as the look, sharpness and macro possibilities are really convincing. I worked on a second project with the Amira and took the chance to try working with bigger lenses (PL zooms) on the shoulder and I must note that for me they made the camera too heavy and out of balance. This is why I’m very much looking forward to the interchangeable EF-mount option Arri is working on (no release date yet). I imagine having the option to use EF zoom lenses will make the camera even more easy to use for my purposes and provide sufficient quality. The assistant’s LCD I was very happy to have a smallHD field monitor at hand, because for me the flip-out LCD was not a good option for controlling my shots. It just felt I “didn’t see everything”. The LCD as mentioned in the video review is prone to ghosting and thus contrast is lost during motion. This is why I call this LCD the “assistant’s LCD” as I think its main purpose is not for shooting, but rather to observe your framing and control the menu. The smallHD DP6 was sitting on a solid camera EVF support that works very well also with bigger field monitors. The only thing missing was a longer SDI cable that I didn’t have at hand. Sound We recorded sound directly from the two high quality Schoeps CMC 5 we had, into the phantom powered XLR’s of the camera. The AMIRA has a normal headphone jack and the controls for sound are on the other side. Each of the 4 channels can be adjusted individually and there are audio level indications on the side and inside the EVF so I could always keep an eye on them. Workflow Basically the workflow was as simple as the rest of the camera, similar to the Alexa workflow as it is described here. When a card is full the camera switches to the second slot. There’s no finalizing footage, ejecting or any of the hassle. You just take out the card and offload the ProRes to your computer and backup. I could easily get through the day with two 120GB cards without ever offloading. I shot everything in Apple ProRes 4444 with the Log C curve. Editing Back on my editing machine (Still using good old Final Cut 7) editing ProRes 4444 natively is a breeze on most current computers and very straight forward to work with. After locking my editing I went into DaVinci Resolve 10 for color correction, which I can only recommend to anyone who hasn’t yet started to use this great app. Exporting from Final Cut via XML gives me my whole timeline and even zoom adjustments right within DaVinci. I love using filmconvert as a starting point for my grades, and DaVinci is the perfect host application for that. The filmconvert OpenFX plugin (10% off with code “cinema5D”) unlike the standalone is very stable and in connection with the crisp and organic AMIRA footage produces stunning results that I only need to tweak lightly. This is how grading is fun. ISO and noise For this project I mostly (about 95%) shot ISO 3200 on the AMIRA as I used a lot of natural light in the location and also wanted to see how far the sensor can be pushed. There were a few shots where the noise, even though it looks very filmic, was too much for my tastes. Luckily I could easily remove that noise within Davinci, but of course it did water down the quality of my shots a little. Concluding I must say the AMIRA seems like it does quite ok under low lighting conditions. There are other cameras though where sensor technology is already more advanced in terms of lowlight though. What I really liked about the AMIRA was that the sensor produces a very very even level of noise. Many other cameras have extremely bad noise in the blacks, so once you underexpose you can forget your shots. The AMIRA really records your shots reliably and you’re able to push them a little without worrying. Final words Working with the Arri AMIRA was quite a good experience. There have been numerous cameras I was not so fond of, but this one had a lot for me. Maybe it’s my personal shooting style and maybe it’s not the right tool for you, but if the price is not an obstacle then it seems this camera does attract the attention of shooters from quite a diverse range of fields. The camera isn’t flawless, especially the weight is the biggest point to consider on every shoot as it can define your whole production size. For me the (still) lacking EF mount option is something that would hold me off on working with the camera again right away and the flip-out LCD could be improved, which Arri will surely do on the next iteration of the Arri AMIRA camera. In terms of an overall shooting experience the ergonomics of the Arri AMIRA had me totally convinced and it was just a pleasure to work with from start to finish. Now I’ve said enough good things and if you have the chance it’s up to you to go out and try this camera yourself. Note that the video compression of vimeo really doesn’t do justice to this camera. See the above still frame (graded) in full to observe the nice quality of the sensor. The difference between the original file and the compressed video online unfortunately is like night and day… You might want to download the compressed source file for a better experience here: vimeo.com/96921772 Thanks again to the very talented young cello artist Sophie Abraham who participated in this camera test and contributed her musical genius. You can find more of her music on her website: www.sophie-abraham.com Where to buy? In the US area you can get the Arri AMIRA at Abel Cine Tech: Basic version: $35,468 US BUY LINK ProRes 422, rec709, 100fps, HD Advanced Version: $39,499 US BUY LINK ProRes 422 (HQ), Log C, 200fps Premium Version: $45,025 US BUY LINK ProRes 4444 and 2K In Europe you can get the Arri AMIRA at AF Marcotec: Basic version: 25,980€ EU BUY LINK ProRes 422, rec709, 100fps, HD Advanced Version: 28,980€ EU BUY LINK ProRes 422 (HQ), Log C, 200fps Premium Version: 32,980€ EU BUY LINK ProRes 4444 and 2K Availablity? The Arri AMIRA is shipping now. More about the Arri AMIRA on the official website. CREDITS Musical performance – SOPHIE ABRAHAM filmmaking – SEBASTIAN WÖBER special thanks to MAX HOFSTÄTTER CAMILLO CIBULKA GERHARD WEINER ROBI FAUSTMANN CAROLINA STEINBRECHER JOHNNIE BEHIRI NINO LEITNER JULIA WESELY JULIA LÖSCHLRead more
Sony’s professional cinema cameras the Sony F5 and Sony F55 have been quite popular among filmmakers and documentarists alike. With the new upgrades Sony addresses many of the things that will make their work and workflow much more ergonomic and offers the option to upgrade an F5 to become an F55.Read more
We thank our sponsor B&H who has made cinema5D’s news coverage of NAB 2012 possible. Get your gear through B&H to support this platform: www.bhphotovideo.com Wooden Camera is a company that got a name for their more affordable RED camera rig accessories. While offering products at prices lower than RED standard they still maintain a high quality. Wooden Camera’s new handheld rig line looks and feels great for medium sized setups like REDs, HDSLRs or other large sensor cameras. Their website is: www.woodencamera.comRead more
Remember the time when the 5D was out and there was basically nothing compatible and affordable for it in terms of shoulder rigs and accessories? Good old days… Well it looks like for some people this time has come all over again. With the RED Scarlet-X that has been announced just 3 weeks ago there’s a new tech revolution on the horizon. 4K cinema quality for $10k US dollars. That’s a huge leap forward for independent and low budget filmmakers, but there’s a catch!: MORE >>Read more
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