Author Archive: RollingShutter

Lighting a film on a low budget.

Even in the world of HDSLRs with their excellent low light capabilities, it remains absolutely essential to properly light a set. Light allows you to apply layers of focus to a scene, drawing the viewer’s gaze to the intended subject, it can add depth and resonance to an otherwise flat scene and it has the power to transform a room into a beautiful set.

But with ever decreasing budgets, is it possible to achieve the look of a big budget film with little or no cash to spend on lighting? The answer is a resounding YES!

Low budget film makers have many tools at their disposal, the most useful being the ability to creatively turn a problem into an opportunity. Charity shops, flea markets and car boot sales are great places to rummage for gear which can be adapted for use, although many items will only really be suitable for use as practicals.

With the growth of the internet driving the cost of many electronic goods down, our capacity for low cost solutions increases by the day, if you know where to look.

Online auctions such as Ebay are great places to find second-hand equipment and low cost ‘aftermarket’ solutions but if there’s a lot of demand for an item, the savings you would expect can be demolished in the heat of a bidding war. At worst, you may wind up paying the same price (or more if you’re not careful) as a new item.

Whatever the market place, it really does pay to be creative…

Redheads


We’d all love a set of Redheads to throw in the boot of the car before a shoot but with an average price of around £650-700 for a kit, this isn’t always a viable option. But if you know where to look, you can find kits for a fraction of the average price! For example, on ebay there are always a raft of companies offering cheap Redhead kits for around £180-200. A massive saving if you’re prepared to take a punt. I’ve never used cheap ebay reds but at those prices but they sound like a gift horse.


Work Lights


The Double Site Light (Approx £23) is an excellent option if you’re on a micro budget. For around 1/4 of the price of a single red, you get 2x 400-500w lamps which come with their own stand. Admittedly the stands aren’t as robust (or as flexible) as those provided with traditional film lighting, they do what they need to and at that price are almost too good to be true.

Also available is the smaller
Single Site Light (Approx £7). These have no stands but can be useful as fill lights or even back lights.

You will find the light output to be a little harsh and consequently, they’re best used off a wall or through a diffuser in most instance. Also, in the absence of barn doors, you’ll need to watch out for spill, but this can be controlled with a little Black Foil.

Chinese Lanterns (aka ‘Chinaballs’)

These little beauties are awesome for adding a soft fill to a scene. They come in a variety of sizes and are usually sold as lamp shades rather than lighting kits.

That said, being the little industrialists that we are, for the sake of a little 2-core flex, a light fitting a socket and a bulb, you can have a chinaball or 5 up and running in just a few minutes for as little as £20.

White Xmas Lights


These are little gems which really help to add texture to a backdrop (especially when shooting with a narrow DOF). That said, they can also be scrunched up to add fill light to an awkward spot or even be dropped inside bowls and vases and used as practicals. For between £6 and £20 for a set, they’re a very useful addition to your lighting arsenal.

Halogens
These days, there’s an extraordinary range of scope when looking at halogen lights. You can buy small clip-on desk lights, larger desk standing lights and even strings of lights to suspend from the ceiling. All of these can be used as low-budget lighting solutions either as scoops or as practicals.

Places like IKEA offer a dazzling array of products for little cash, as do the likes of Argos and even B&Q. Bulbs aren’t too expensive either and come in a range of sizes and strengths to suit almost all of your micro budget needs!

Feeling adventurous?
If you’re able to operate a jig-saw and have the nounce for a little DIY electrical work, you can purchase lighting roses and flex from your local DIY store and, with a little wood or MDF and some patience, it’s possible to make your own Soft Boxes, a Ring Light and many other custom configurations for very little cash.

These projects are definitely not for the feint hearted but, if you know your way around a circuit diagram, can offer massive savings and are very rewarding.

Bulbs & Colour Temperature
All of the solutions above fall into the ‘Tungsten’ category, offering a colour temp in the region of 2700°K-3200°K so if you have any daylight in your scene, you’ll need to address this with either Day>Art gels on the windows or Art>Day gels for your lights (where possible).

Alternatively, it’s possible to purchase daylight bulbs but beware, some low cost ‘daylight’ low energy bulbs can give a flickery green hue.

You need to specifically look for bulbs which express a colour temperature of 6300°K-6500°K and whilst they may cost a little more up-front, they are generally worth the extra outlay due to their longer operating lives and more importantly (in the case of low energy bulbs), their lower operating temperatures.

Which reminds me… now may be a good time to look into a small fire extinguisher… just in case!

Good luck and happy lighting!



LCDVF 3/2 Review

First Impressions
The LCDVF 3/2 is a new version which comes in a 3:2 form factor to snugly fit Canon’s EOS 550d (amongst others) and since we’re currently using the 550d on an almost daily basis, this seemed the perfect time to test-drive the new loupe.

It comes supplied with a pre-attached satin lanyard, 2 metal frames for attaching to the camera body, a cleaning cloth, a neoprene carrying case and user guide including fitting instructions. A very welcome inclusion was a Bluestar micro-fibre eyepiece cushion, which sits snugly over the rubber eyecup and makes the unit infinitely more comfortable to use on long shoots.

Upon first inspection, I was quite disappointed with the LCDVF. The plastic feels brittle and the manufacturing wasn’t to the standard that I expected. On the demo unit we received, there is a small nick in one of the inner edges that is quite visible when looking through the loupe, although not so large as to be distracting. Also, the long edges of the camera-attaching end are not exactly straight which made it a little tricky to align with the camera’s screen.

That said; this is where the disappointment ended.

In Use
Fitting the magnetic frame to the camera was very straightforward with the adhesive strip remaining malleable enough to pop off and realign in the first few seconds yet forming a fast bond once ‘massaged’ into place.

Rested under a couple of light books, the frame was set firmly in place within 15 minutes, but to be safe, we left it sitting under this gentle weight for 3 hours, by which time it seemed all-but immovable.

The loupe snaps on and off the camera effortlessly yet once in position, the magnetic bond is strong enough to cope with a range of movements, remaining firmly and comfortably in place until you need to remove it, at which time it hangs easily from the neck via the lanyard so it’s always within reach.

Once in place, it provides a 200% magnification of the camera’s view screen making focus effortless whilst recording. Prior to shooting, in conjunction with the 5x and 10x magnification, setting up focus is pin-sharp, even with the aperture wide open.

With the LCDVF in position, the camera is now held against the eye during shooting, providing a 3rd point of contact. Micro rotations are massively reduced by the increased length of the body and by the shifting of the focal plane forwards by approximately 2.5 inches. This increased stability means that slow, steady tracking shots through hand-held work become more viable.

Verdict

LCDVF is almost half the price of the Zacuto Z-Finder but even though we’ve not been able to test-drive a Z-Finder yet, we can’t think of any reason how this lesser price could offer any lesser benefits. Once applied to the camera it instantly provides a massive increase in focus-ability and apart from the magnetic frame no ‘setting up’ was required. It just snaps on and instantly provides a clear 200% magnification as promised.

For anyone planning to shoot video seriously with their 550d (or any other DSLR for that matter), we strongly suggest that the first investment you make is in an LCDVF. Since the minute we attached this demo unit to our camera, we all agreed that shooting video without it is not something we’d ever like to do again.

It’s not only useful for video makers though. We enjoy stills photography too and whilst it’s a little cumbersome for every-day use, for macro photography, it is an invaluable tool, allowing for very fine levels of focusing to be achieved.

All in all, a fantastic product which quickly makes itself an essential piece of your filmmaking kit.

Rating
Ease of use: 5/5
Build quality: 3/5
Functionality: 5/5
Sex appeal: 4/5
Value for money: 5/5

Overall rating:

5/5 – Highly recommended.



Raindance ‘Jump on the DSLR bandwagon’.

This week, Raindance announced a new addition to their annual line-up of ’99 minute film school schools’.

The welcome inclusion is their 99 MINUTE DSLR SCHOOL, taught by Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy repute.

To accompany this inclusion, they have created a page offering some useful tips to new DLSR shooters.

It’s a small addition to their site but is another important example of the DSLR’s impact on the greater filmmaking community.

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 http://reviews.rollingshutter-films.co.uk/ 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

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
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.

IN USE
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).

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

Overall rating:



Testament

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.

FURTHER UPDATE
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

550d-raw-head

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.