Monthly Archives: August 2010

New Nikon D3100. So near and yet…

Just announced is Nikon’s new HDSLR offering, the D3100 which, on the surface, seems to be Nikon’s answer to Canon’s highly acclamed EOS 550d. However, when we dig under the surface, we have to wonder if Nikon really understand the High Definition DSLR market at all…

Finally Nikon have released a DSLR camera capable of recording video at 1080p, a massive step up from their previous best of 720p. However, the D3100 only offers frame size/rates of 1920 × 1080, 24 fps; 1280 × 720, 30 fps, frankly a peculiar choice of sizes and speeds.

If you’re in the US and are looking to shoot native NTCS, you must accept the lesser ‘HD Ready’ resolution but you can go ‘Full HD’ at 24fps. Fine if you’re after the coveted ‘film look’ and live in the US but in Europe’s PAL/SECAM world of 25fps, this just doesn’t help at all. Anyone wishing to broadcast anywhere other than online will need to conform their output to 25fps, introducing an unnecessary and unwelcome recompression point into their workflow.

Also questionable is the inclusion of auto-focus while shooting (to be confirmed). HDSLRs are widely regarded as digital ‘film’ cameras, not Camcorders. As such, there’s little or no use for continuous AF during shooting and I can’t help but wonder of Nikon have completely missed the boat on this one. Look out for a new wave of focus scanning which I for one was glad to have left to the world of home movies.

We’re hoping to get our hands on a D3100 in the near future and we’ll provide a hands-on review as soon as possible.

Dedicated Reviews Site In Development

We’ve been discussing that we want to start bringing your reviews of the latest (H)DSLR gear which we intend to test in real world simulations, following industry methodologies.

In order to provide you with a One-Stop-Shop solution with reviews, buyers guides and product news, we are in the process of developing a new, dedicated web site for this purpose which we aim to have up and running in the next few days.

Pop over to and bookmark us.

In the meantime, if there are any specific products you feel we should be putting through their paces for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we’ll make the necessary arrangements.

Pimp my HDSLR!

We love putting crazy things in front of our 550d and building things to support it (see below)…

e.g. 1: We needed a matte box in a hurry, so we threw one together from some aluminium we had in the store room.

e.g. 2: Then we mounted it on a rig we made from some steel tubing, steel plate and an old tripod!

…but we’ve realised that some (read most) of the madcap workarounds we have come up with over the last 6 months or so are not exactly repeatable so there’s little/no point in reviewing them for you.

So! (takes a very deep breath)… Over the coming months we are planning a huge run of product testing. Everything from follow focuses through eyepieces to full rigs and dollies/cranes. If you can attach it to an HDSLR (or attach an HDSLR to it), we want to review it it.

Some of the more popular pieces of kit we already own and have used to death (which will make reviewing it easy) whilst other stuff has yet to pass through our hands. In order to be as fair as we can to as many suppliers as possible, we’ll be contacting many of the key manufacturers and/or suppliers and asking if they’d be so kind as to send us what they consider to be their most HDSLR friendly products. Then, with as complete a balance of items as possible, we’ll bolt them on and run a series of comparative tests to find out how they hold up.

Some of the tests will be measurable and we’ll show you direct comparisons of data whilst others will be subjective, reflecting our view of how well the item fits into a practical workflow. Since we have no affiliations with any suppliers, we’re free to be as brutal as need be and we’ve no qualms about tearing a sub-standard item to shreds, just as we’re happy to pile heaps of praise upon those items which stand out from the crowd.

Rating guide
All of our tests will result in an overall rating (1-5) with a breakdown reflecting performance against each of the following criteria:

Ease of use: When you’re on a busy set, will it slow you down?
Build quality: Is it robust enough to meet the needs of a demanding shoot?
Functionality: Does it make shooting easier or is it just a gimmick?
Sex appeal: Does it have that ‘wow’ factor?
Value for money: Is it worth breaking the bank for?

Overall Rating

Bloody awful, keep your cash in your pocket.

Well, that was a bit of a let down.

It does what it says it will do… no more, no less.

Better than OK. Still not great, but pretty darned close.

How did we manage without it? Stop reading this and go buy one!

It’s going to take a little time to convince people that we won’t be harsh for the sake of it and that it’ll be in their interests to send us some equipment to test. Then we need to devise and run the tests.

Luckily, we’re passionate about our HDSLRs and can’t wait to get stuck in!

Watch this space…

Canon BG-E8 Battery Grip for EOS 550D

The first thing I noticed about the 550d is its size, or lack thereof. I have large hands and it feels like a toy in my usual grip. The body is also so light that with anything larger than the kit 18-55mm lens attached, it tends to topple forwards placing unnecessary stress on the lens attachment.

Luckily, the solution to both problems came in the form of the extremely useful, if not essential Canon BG-E8 Battery Grip.

The assembly not only adds necessary size to the small camera body but it adds room for two BP-E8 batteries to be used simultaneously, essentially doubling shooting time.

Curiously, it supplies power in such a way that both batteries are drained at exactly the same rate (meaning they both die at the same time), so for long shoots it’s advisable to go equipped with an extra pair of LP-E8 batteries and an extra charger. (By the way, I highly recommend that you only buy original canon batteries. They not only last longer but their power delivery is more camera friendly).

In the box you get the BG-E8 Battery grip, a tray for 2x LP-E8 batteries (supplied separately) and an additional tray which holds 6x AA/LR6 batteries for emergency use (with decent batteries, this could be up to 2.5 hours of emergency power).

Items as they arrive.

Battery tray loaded with 2x LP-E8 batteries.

Battery tray affixing to BG-E8 grip.

BG-E8 affixing to EOS 500d Body.

As we’ve come to expect from Canon, the grip is manufactured to exacting standards and it looks and feels great. The plastic is a fairly heavy gauge, yet doesn’t feel ‘plasticy’, and has strategically placed rubberised inserts for a solid grip. The battery tray’s locking mechanism moves into place with a satisfying click and won’t easily undo, spilling your batteries over the set floor.

Once the grip is in place, the camera looks and feels like a much beefier piece of kit and it looks a hell of a lot more professional too. Not a hugely important point but one which may lend you a little additional credibility when you turn up at a shoot where your client is expecting to see a more traditional video camera. This beefed up beauty looks like it cost an additional zero, especially with a small 50mm on the front.

For those of you with larger hands, it gives you somewhere to rest your little finger which (as you can see below), tends to be left hanging on the default assembly:

Another great benefit of this addition is the new position of the battery tray. The default body position is on the underside which means you need to remove the camera from the tripod/rig in order to change cells. With the grip in place, you change batteries from the side so you don’t need to strike the rig because of a flat battery.

If you spend any amount of time working on portraiture, there is an extra benefit to fitting a battery grip: When the camera is turned through 90 degrees into portrait aspect, an additional three buttons (AV +/-, zoom in, zoom out), an additional shutter release and menu-selector-wheel come into play. The extra shutter release makes portraiture a snap and removes the need to become a contortionist and the wheel is handy too. The zoom +/- buttons are micro-switched (as opposed to the body’s soft touch buttons) and respond with a solid click when pressed.

An additional ISO button would have been nice, but we can’t have it all!

All in all, it’s a great piece of kit and I highly recommend it to anyone who intends to use their 550d seriously. It addresses several of the inherent flaws and provides a robust platform for professional users. Mine never leaves the camera body!

There are after-market versions available for a fraction of the price (such as the one from Delamax) but I’ve not used them so can’t really comment on their performance (but I’m sure there are plenty of product reviews out there).

Ease of use: 5/5
Build quality: 5/5
Functionality: 5/5
Sex appeal: 5/5
Value for money: 3/5

Overall rating:


Our new feature, Testament, has now reached the end of its first milestone and the first draft is complete. Now begins the notorious process of paring it back to remove the unnecessary fluff (believe me, there’s plenty).

We’re lucky that the story breaks at the end of Act 1, giving us the perfect opportunity to strip it out and create a self-contained short after a little tweaking. We will be taking this short into production towards the end of this year so we can present a ‘sizzle reel’ to attract potential investment with which to fund the feature.

UPDATE Casting breakdown now live:
The following ad appeared in PCR this week…

RollingShuter Films are casting for an upcoming short film: Testament.

This is an abridged version of a proposed feature film’s first act and is being produced primarily to attract feature funding.

Synopsis: In this satirical romantic comedy, God is frustrated with Mankind’s obsession with the need for proof of His existence. He decides to send another child to earth in order to settle the matter once and for all. Will Mary prove to be the right choice for a surrogate?

Roles being cast:
MARY: Our protagonist is an 18 year old fashion student. She is a tall brunette with an air of innocence about her.
JOSEPH: A 19 year old, ‘unkempt’ looking joiner who is utterly devoted to Mary.
EDITH: Mary’s mother is in her mid/late 30s. She’s rather ‘well-to-do’, with rigid ideas concerning how society expects a young lady to behave.
ROGER: Mary’s dad, also in his mid/late 30s. He lives under the large thumb of Edith.
GOD: Grey/white bearded, absent-minded older man.
GABRIEL: A tall and strikingly handsome angel. He is well spoken and confident, until things go off-plan…

Shooting to take place in London in the Autumn of 2010. Expenses and a copy of the film will be provided and cast members will be considered for paid/deferred roles in the feature should funding applications be successful.

Please send resumes and photographs here.

We’re very excited about this project and its progression so we are launching a new site where we shall be keeping an ongoing production diary:
Visit the dedicated TESTAMENT website here.

How close can you go…

We’re always on the look out for new things to stick in front of the camera and when a set of +1, +2, +4 and +10d lenses arrived this week, they went straight on the front of the 18-55mm zoom.

Can’t wait to see some funky images like this appearing in future films!

EOS 550d Camera Raw now supported by CS5

After some ‘issues’ with CS4, Adobe have apparently seen the error of their ways and incorporated .CR2 file support into their latest Photoshop incarnation – Creative Suite 5.

The Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in (version 6.1) is available as a separate download from the Adobe site in either Mac or PC formats and now includes support for the EOS 550d/T2i.

When you select FILE>OPEN from within Photoshop, the .CR2 image opens in a new application (fig.1 ) which offers slimmed-down Lightroom type controls (very similar to Canon’s ‘Digital Photo Professional’) enabling you to fine tune the digital negative before importing into Photoshop proper.

Once in Photoshop, it retains the .CR2 extension, as opposed to Digital Photo Professional’s Tools>Transfer to Photoshop export function, which sends a .tiff file to Photoshop. This is an excellent feature but one which must be treated with a little extra care so as not to destroy the digital negative by accidentally saving any changes.

fig. 1

All in all, this is a very welcome addition to the range of 550d’s image manipulation possibilities.

EOS 550d Zebra Stripes Workaround

Many people have said that it’s a shame the 550d has no ‘Zebra Stripes’ and whilst this lack of functionality is certainly a pain for some people… it needn’t be! All it takes is a few seconds of pre-planning.

Now, to put this in perspective: I didn’t buy my 550d as a video camera, silly as this may sound. I’m a FILM maker and when shooting with an HDSLR, I treat them in much the way as when shooting on film, the only difference being the capture format so this small workaround fits in really well and is worth the few seconds it takes:

First, record a second or two of the scene, fully lit. Stop the recording and press the [Play] button.
The first frame of the image will display on the LCD.

Press the [DISP.] button (fig. 1) to enable the R.G.B. HISTOGRAM view (fig. 2).

fig. 1

fig. 2

With the true R.G.B. Histogram displayed, you can see the spread of light across individual wavelengths (a valuable feature of the EOS range) and you can immediately look for clipped colours.
Press [DISP.] again and it will also display the WHITE Histogram (fig. 3).

fig. 3

Being armed with this information is a step in the right direction, but we’re not done yet.
Press [SET] to play the clip you just recorded and if any areas are clipped, they will flash on the LCD to warn you, in much the same way as a Zebra stripe would (fig. 4).

fig. 4

A major benefit of this method is that clipping is measured from the Histogram, not the display (as with Zebra striped on almost every camcorder that uses them) so you don’t need to worry about your LCD screen being too bright and affecting the reading.

As I said, it’s a workaround that fits nicely into my workflow when working on a set or under controlled circumstances. Appreciate this isn’t ideal for everyone, but it’s better than nothing and, in some ways, better than true striping.

Hope it works for you too.


After many years in a drawer, I recently redscovered the first fully-fledged short ‘film’ I ever made which involved editing outside the camera, rather than an ‘in-camera’ assemble edit.

Shot on sVHS it was then digitised to my Matrox RT2000 powered PC in glorious QCIF (352×288), the maximum resolution I could work in without the PC crashing! Fortunately, QCIF blows up fairly well and resembles VHS quality.

The killer for me was watching this short projected in my local indie cinema. My pixelly little film on a 60ft screen… I think that’s when I was truly hooked on this film making malarkey!