Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Useful software for videographers and photographers - Part 2

Earlier this year I was presented with some footage shot in Cote d'Ivoire, Africa on a Canon 5D MKII. The pictures were OK but the sound was distorted when the levels peaked and a look at the waveform showed that everything was square off. After an appeal on Twitter (@pukkascott if you want to follow) one suggestion was to try iZotope's RX2 audio repair software. 

iZotope RX2 tools
This is an immensely powerful suite of tools including Denoise, Declip, Spectral Repair, Declick & Decrackle, Remove Hum and more. After a quick view of an instructional video I applied Declip to the exported WAV file and after a little bit of playing around the distortion was completely removed and the waveform peaks nicely rounded. At $349 for the standard version it is not cheap but could save your bacon. 
A much cheaper version called music and speech cleaner is available for $39 which improves noisy speech but is no good for declipping.
There a lots of sound capturing pieces of software available and after a lot of experimenting I plumped for SoundTap by NCH software. It produces very clean records from anything played on a computer or voice recordings from Skype. 
There a lots of sound capturing pieces of software available and after a lot of experimenting I plumped for SoundTap by NCH software. It produces very clean records from anything played on a computer or voice recordings from Skype. 


Backup is one of the most important day to day operations since tapeless production came along. It took me a while to get round the fact that my G-Tech Raid drives were not backed up despite having two drives in the case but my Netgear network drives were. So now I use Netgear network drives to backup the G-Tech ones using Netgear's own NTI Shadow software. It works OK but it's a resource hogger and I have to disable the software when editing.
Backup is one of the most important day to day operations since tapeless production came along. It took me a while to get round the fact that my G-Tech Raid drives were not backed up despite having two drives in the case but my Netgear network drives were. So now I use Netgear network drives to backup the G-Tech ones using Netgear's own NTI Shadow software. It works OK but it's a resource hogger and I have to disable the software when editing.

Deep Meta thumbnail selection

It's important to set up the right recording location and the file naming convention in options as it would be impossible to find the recordings later if you don't. One feature I really like about the software is that even when you click "start recording" the file only starts to be created when it senses an audio input. Until the end of December it is available for $19.99 so I recommend you to get it this week.

To backup my system drive I use Casper 7.0 by Future Systems which creates a clone of the drive. The software manages to copy every file on the drive so the backup is true replica of the primary drive and when that falls over you really can slot in the backup and everything boots up perfectly. 

It is light on computer resources and it uses SmartClone to only back up changes to the drive, but doesn't take hours checking the drive like other tools I have tried. I doesn't work with network drives or on a Mac unfortunately but should be on everybody's PC.

Getting more specialist I thought I would briefly mention two tools I use to upload and manage stock material. 

I recently discovered Deep Meta by Belgium company Eazign byba which is a great analysis tool for iStockphoto material. I won't go into detail about what the software can do because as it is free there is no reason not to try it, but one feature I discovered is a real bonus. If you control+click to select a number of connected files and then right click to open the dialogue window, click on "create thumbnail links...", save changes and a little while later the associated thumbnails will appear in the iStockphoto listing for each one giving a link to alternative shots for a purchaser. 

 Finally Send to Smugmug by Omar Shahine is a very useful piece of freeware for uploading photo and video files to your Smugmug account. Once account details have been entered it will list your albums (or you can create a new one) that you can upload to. Choose a folder containing the files and select which files you want to send and click upload. Very quick and easy.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Useful software for videographers and photographers - Part 1

Over the years I have purchased or downloaded for free many small pieces of software to achieve specific results or solutions. Some are used a couple of times and then deleted, others, like Christmas dogs, stay with me forever. I thought I would run through some of them here as they may prove useful to you one day.

MPEG Streamclip by Squared 5 is one of the best known video converters and despite owning powerful conversion software by Avid, Apple and Adobe, this is the one I use the most. Firstly it produces files that are universally playable and recommended by stock sites. Secondly it can convert sections of a DVD to a QT file that can be imported to Avid. Thirdly it is quick to use and the presets are logical. Finally it is very small programme that has little impact on computer resources.

MPEG Streamclip options

Most editors know that attaching Apple formatted drives to a Windows PC just doesn't work unless you install Mediafour's Mac Drive which allows you to be totally agnostic about the drive format. But another of the company's software, Disk Aware has been the find of the year for me. Disk Aware analyses every folder and file on a drive and presents it as a list arranged in size order and also as a colour-coded wheel which shows you the relative size of the files and folders. Simply click on a segment and analyse the next layer down.

DiskAware - The Wheel
The programme only costs $10 per computer but it can analyse any drive: internal, external, flash and even network drives. It enables easy clearing up of drives and lets you work out why all your storage has disappeared. 

One tool I used for a while, dropped and have returned to is IrfanView, the strangely named freeware viewer for PCs. One of the more recent improvements is IrfanView Thumbnails which you get when you install the complete set of plugins and I place as a shortcut on the desktop. It opens up an explorer window with a light grey background to distinguish it from Windows Explorer. Open up a folder containing mixed media and almost immediately it is populated with thumbnails which can be set to many sizes, not just Window's three. 

IrfanView Thumbnails of text, video and .psd

Thumbnails are shown for videos (with filmstrip icon), stills (even Photoshop) and text. PDFs are not shown however. One of the most useful tools is the ability to save those thumbnails as separate images for putting into a spreadsheet for example. Hovering over a thumbnail reveals information about the file itself such as dimensions, although for video only the dimensions of the thumbnail itself are shown. Like most features of IrfanView they are a work in progress, but the ability to see thumbnails from both videos and Photoshop files make it worth having.

In Part 2 I look at a a couple of sound tools, a backup programme and a couple of tools for uploading and managing material at iStock and Smugmug.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The evangelists and agnostics of 4K video

One of the best things about editing TV programmes is that you get to see them in the best quality possible straight out of the edit suite. With a broadcaster approved monitor and a fast computer the pictures often look great - the only thing that would make them better is watching them from a comfy sofa - perks of an executive producer, not a humble editor.

At home I have Sky HD which is pretty good and Freeview which isn't. I also have a powerful computer which plays out my 4K timelapses in Cineform QuickTime and suddenly everything before looks inadequate. I don't have a 4K monitor but the detail on a decent HD TV is amazing - you can almost smell the congestion zone in some of my London shots.

But not everybody thinks 4K is a necessary step for the future. Philip Bloom has this to say:
"8K is the future. Not 4k. Now don’t get me wrong – 4k is smashing, but the difference between 2K (essentially full HD) and 4k is not the leaps and bounds that we had from SD to HD. Not to my old eyes, and by the time we all have 8K, won’t see a bloody thing but THIS is the progress leap that will make the difference."

But for Jim Jannard the founder of Red the release of new 4K Sony cameras is confirmation that 4K will be as big as HD:
"Sony has come to the party. God love them. The F65 is a true 4K camera (although not 8K as it is advertised). The F5 and F55 are 4K cameras soon to be released. There are 4K display panels being released. 4K projectors. The world is finally coming to its senses. We predicted this 6 years ago. Now it is here" 

Now Philip Bloom and Jim Jannard have rarely sung from the same hymn sheet but I expected cordiality over this one. I have seen material projected in 4K from the Canon 1D C and the Canon C500 and it looks pretty fantastic but then it had the best post production money can buy so it should. 

It is over 6 years since Sky launched HD transmission in the UK so I feel we are due an upgrade and 8K is just too far removed from practicality, but material is being filmed, edited and shown in 4K right now. It is the near future and I feel every TV production company should start to look to that future.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

To 4K and beyond... to Ultra HD

This week the Consumer Electronics Association (the CEA) made an announcement that the next jump in TV resolution will not be called 4K (as it has be called for the last four years) but Ultra HD or UHDTV (according to the ITU). Now before I get swallowed up by TLA's or even FLA's (five letter acronyms) I tried to work out what format I will be working with for the next eight years before 8K is expected to arrive.

With the help of my rusty calculator I did a few divisions and multiplications and worked out that the minimum resolution of 3840x2160 is indeed 16:9 but is a bit smaller than the 4096x2304 that is "real 4K". However it is both double the 1920x1080 we know and love and the format specified by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE for FLA lovers) in 2007.

But the CEA press release reads as follows:
Minimum performance attributes include display resolution of at least eight million active pixels, with at least 3,840 horizontally and at least 2,160 vertically. Displays will have an aspect ratio with width to height of at least 16 X 9. To use the Ultra HD label, display products will require at least one digital input capable of carrying and presenting native 4K format video from this input at full 3,840 X 2,160 resolution without relying solely on up-converting.

So that's a minimum resolution. Sony have declared that they will retain the 4K description and call their products 4K UHD, which presumably means their TVs will be 4096 pixels wide and 2304 pixels high. So what will broadcasters choose? My money is on 3480x2160 which reduces an image by nearly 2 million pixels a frame, quite a saving. Sony will just have to upscale, which is never a pretty job.

All of this makes producing stock material for the future no easier than it is now with 1080p, 1080i and 720p all being used in the real world. Currently Red camera operators can chose to shoot both Ultra HD formats so they may have to make a decision at the time of shooting. Even the (not so) humble GoPro3 can now shoot 4K either in 3480x2160 or the cinemascope (17:9) 4096x2160.  

Choices, choices, choices. 

But 4K or thereabout videos are BIG and you don't want to upload more versions than is necessary, so I will stick with 4096 x 2304 for now because shrinking will always look better than stretching. Won't it?

Please note: 4K footage is not currently available to download from the London Photography And Video web-site, but can be supplied on request if available.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The boring but extremely important part of video making

You've just finished the most brilliant bit of work you have ever produced. Shot on Red, edited in 4K, graded, dubbed and in the preview theatre it looks and sounds amazing. Now what?

Well the video needs to be distributed to lots of different recipients with just as many requirements. Is it going to be shown in the cinema in 4K? Played by broadcasters in 1080p, 1080i, 720p, standard definition? Will it be put on a BluRay disk or a DVD? And if it is going to be watched on a computer, how good is the screen resolution and does the computer have the ability to play it back? 

There have always been multiple options when it comes to saving a piece of video or TV, even in the old days of  U-matic you could choose Hi-band or Low-band. But now if I am asked for a QuickTime file I ask at least 5 questions which are inevitably followed by blank stares and shoulder shrugs. 

Every four years or so there is a new format in town, the last biggy being HD with a top size of 1920 pixels by 1080. The next big step is 4K with either 4096 x 2304 pixels or 4096 x 2160 pixels. We can make this now and there are a lot of formats we can save it to such as old favourites like Apple ProRes and MPEG4 as well as a few new ones like GoPro's Cineform. Shortly HEVC or High Efficiency Video Encoding will be officially released by the MPEG and VCEG joint group. This new codec will have the same quality as MPEG4 but half the size (or the same size and twice the quality). 

Bored yet? Of course you are, but what is the point of producing a superb video when the only place it looks right is in the edit suite? A final thought; archive to the least compressed (preferably uncompressed) format you can so you can always produce new compressed copies from this master. 

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

What will we be watching in 10 years?

I was sorting out a load of surplus electronic gear that has not been switched on for over 3 years and among it are three perfectly working TVs that I can no longer use, because the TV signal transmitted in the UK is now digital only and these only have analogue tuners. 

About 90% of the material I edit is now originated in high definition and as every UK broadcaster demands that all new programmes are supplied in 1080i I find it hard to watch anything that is not transmitted in HD any more.

I have now started to produce 4K (4096x2304 pixel) video from time lapses shot on a Canon 5D MKII (which are available through the London Photo and Video time lapse gallery). I have nothing to watch them back on yet but 4K TVs are becoming available and PC monitors have been close to this resolution for a while; I expect Apple retina displays will soon reach this level. With the 4K shooting Red Epic and Scarlet cameras becoming widely available more 4K material will be originated and the demand will increase.

The format is likely to remain 16:9 so my LCD and LED 1920p TVs will still be able to show downsized 4K material so hopefully they won't be redundant to quickly. But I doubt they will last as long as one of the TVs I need to get rid of - a Sony Trinitron bought in Hong Kong over 25 years ago and still giving a great picture. 

Maybe I will just keep hold of this one a little longer. 

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The future of Sony - a suggestion

On second February 2012 two very large numbers presented themselves in articles online. The first, on Reuters, was that Sony are predicting that they are expecting to make a $2.9 billion LOSS this financial year, that's four years of continual losses.This is one of the biggest electrical company in the world who invented the Walkman, Trinitron TVs, the Playstation and er Betamax.

But in the last decade they really haven't been beating competitors to market with anything amazing. Blu-ray is a collaboration of companies and they have released nothing to compete with the iPad/Pod/Touch/Mac products. They hope to finally start making profit on their TVs in 2013, but that will partly be by selling off their LCD screen production facilities to Samsung for £600 million - hardly innovative.

It's hard to think of an electronic section Sony do not produce products for; VAIO laptops, stills cameras, broadcast cameras, TVs, mobile phones (just), etc. but I can't think of any product that is the market leader - they are no longer a Brand Leader. They are missing a fantastic opportunity to lead the way in DSLR video technology. They have a pretty good series of DSLR and extensive knowledge of video and broadcast requirements, so why haven't they produced a product like the Canon C300 or Panasonic AF101. Oh, sorry, they have. The Sony NEX-FS100E. Sorry again, but it isn't exactly the piece of equipment every cameraman want to get his hands on - unlike the Canon C300.

So Sony have making products but can't really work out what product everyone really wants. One person who was (and is) rather good at working this out is Mark Zuckerberg who had the other outstanding number on the 2nd February. He is set to earn $28 billion when Facebook is publically offered and I have been debating what a person could actually do with that amount of money. My suggestion would be for him to buy Sony, rename it Sony Inc. and start producing the products that some people pay Apple type premiums for at the moment.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Time - it’s never running at the right speed

Of all the various ways of measuring things, Time is generally the most important or critical, at least it is to me. Size doesn't matter, distance can be reduced or extended by speed and volume can be altered, sometimes by the flick of a dial. But Time, that little four letter word that I have given a capital "T", has a mind of its own and will never change, despite the best efforts of the Large Hadron Collider scientists.

Twenty-four hours a day, Time rules my world; where I have to be, what I have to do, what has to be finished, deadlines. I can't change these. I ask for one more minute to finish editing a piece and if I get it I lose a minute from the next Time period. The producer tells me we are on air in five minutes and EVS need the cut in three. I need six, but somehow I finish in four and we get to air. Yes! I beat Time, kind of.

So with all these Time pressures, why on earth do I love making Time lapse sequences? Because, let's face it, the world looks much better when slowed right down or sped right up. It's boring at normal speed, that's so everyday, so dull. In slow motion you can see things missed in real Time. Footage from the Phantom Flex or Hi-Mo cameras analyse movement in a beautiful and intriguing way.Timelapses truncate Time and let you see in thirty seconds what took hours or even days to actually happen. You can't comprehend that as a human, so to see a flower opening, a bridge being built or even the view from the highest building in the world (see Philips Bloom's fabulous film) is a miracle because it manipulates Time.

So I am bored of the speed at which I live and want to control it and if I can't become a Time Lord, then timelapse photography is the closest I am likely to get.To see some of my attempts to control Time go to my Vimeo site at

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

What goes down must go up (in price)

A lot of people seems to be getting quite excited and Tweeting with nervous energy - the Canon C300 DSLR-in-a-video-body is about to be delivered to those who are happy to stump up around £10,0000 or $15,000 for a camera body. Of course for that money it won't work. You need to spend another few thousand on handy things like lens adaptors, storage media, cheese boards (don't ask) and so on.

Apparantly this camera will produce footage that looks as good or slightly better than the Canon 5D MKII but with proper video stuff like mic inputs and decent metering. But is the C300 five times as good as the 5D MKII that has been used to shoot prime-time drama (House MD) and now an Oscar nominated documentary (Hell and Back Again)? Well we won't know until the side by side reviews are complete and Philip Bloom gives his highly important verdict.

But if you can't wait, umm...wait. Don't buy a C300 yet because even more exciting is the overdue announcement of the Canon 5D MKIII (yes Mark 3). Canon may have delayed the launch of this so it doesn't effect the initial sales of the C300, because even if the new 5D only improves a bit it is going to be a very worthy video camera (that happens to also take superb stills by the way). And everyone will already own all the peripherals needed to shoot great video with a stills camera.So how do Canon pitch the new 5D MKIII?  Well I would double the price of the body up from around £1,600 for the current model to £3,200. It would still be almost £7,000 cheaper than a C300 (and cheaper than Canon's top of the range still cameras) and be within the reach of semi-pro operators, but it would make it look like a premium upgrade. Buyers wouldn't have to spend any extra on batteries, lenses or cheese boards.

Would I buy one at that price to shoot video? Probably not. I would get a Panasonic GH2 with a Driftwood hack for less than £1000 because it gives fantastic results and at that price I can employ a sound-man, an assistant and someone to make the tea.

Is there anything that can’t be copyrighted?

On 12th January 2012 a London Court came to the conclusion that one company had breached the copyright of another by using an image of a London Bus in front of the Houses of Parliament. In both images the London bus was in red but all the background elements were in a flat monochrome. But there the similarities end and you can see them both here.

The two photographs were taken at different vantage points, taken at a different time and even the buses are slightly different.According to a lawyer quoted by Amateur Photographer: 'His honour Judge Birss QC decided that a photograph of a red London bus against a black and white background of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with a blank sky, was similar enough to another photograph of the same subject matter to infringe copyright.' 

Aged Big Ben
Image from iStockphoto
Ok so what about this image from iStockphoto. It ticks the same boxes as the two in the court case, so should iStockphoto remove it from their catalogue or will I be taken to court if I pay for an extended license and use it on the packaging of my new brand of Red Bus Chocolate Buttons?Debate about what can be patented or copyrighted started in the United States in 1790 when the first patent was issued and in England in 1449 when King Henry VI granted one to John of Utynam.

More recently in the world of TV, in the 1980's Quantel successfully destroyed the company that made a graphic design package called Pastiche that worked in a similar way to the Quantel Paintbox, the then market leader. Quantel proved in court that they had the patent for mixing colours in a palette, just like artists have been doing for thousands of years, and the Pastiche could not use this way of mixing colours. At the time there wasn't a viable alternative and the product died.

Unfortunately common sense rarely applies in case of copyright - I would like to see the "don't be so ridiculous" plea made admissible in court - something that Apple lawyers have made into an art form. So now I need a way of copyrighting every image I take or film without it costing me anything - ideas?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Will Google do an Apple?

Despite posting a lower than expected earning result last week Google still managed to earn$37,900,000,000 in 2011 of which 96% came from advertising . Now Google do a lot more than just offer a search engine, but the question is “why bother?”.

If you make such a huge amount from your core business isn’t it good business sense to jetison the less profitable sides that might be dragging you down. Apple had revenue of $24.67 billion in Q2 last year - yes just one quarter - with Macs and iPhones selling in huge numbers.

But desktops, peripherals and in particular software make up such a small part of the revenue that Apple will generally stop or reduce development in non-core products.

The most obvious example of this is their editing software Final Cut. When it was launched it ripped open the professional editing market and everyone from the BBC down jumped on the bandwagon. Now that wagon is going around picking up the Macs no-one wants because FCP is now FC Pro X (or FuCXed as some call it). It doesn’t sell millions of packages because there aren’t a million editors out here.

So Apple will call it “a revolution in creative editing” but I think it is rotten to the core and will gradually become a way of editing whatever you are watching on your iPad. It makes sense to ditch it - to me and the much smarter people at Cupertino.

So what will Google do when they see that they don’t really need to supply all these great aps that people love but not quite enough to pay greenbacks for? Hopefully they will say “we’re making enough, let’s give something back”, because if I lose Google Calendar my future looks as bleak as that of Final Cut Pro X.