Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Adventures over the Spring and Summer

Time for another Mac Adventure! It's been a few months and sorry I've slipped on my updates lately. I've had a few things going on that have been higher on the priority scale... Spring soccer with the oldest, busy work schedule, and vacation!  Those things are out of the way now and the summer is on its way in. Granted, June is always a busy month- two birthdays to celebrate, father's day, etc.

Now the Mac Adventure! Forewarning: this is a pretty long post. The content of this section is video / media related where I will be talking about video cameras, dslr's, and software.  Skip down several paragraphs to read about general mac stuff and my opinion on some of the WWDC 2012 news from Apple.

Recently, I filmed a wedding of some friends at our Church. I am now in the process of doing some video editing with Final Cut Pro.  I've known the couple for quite some time (since they were as tall as my waist anyway...) so I wanted to do something "extra special" for them.  I took a little more video footage than normal, including the bridal shower (which normally I do not go to!) as well as the rehearsal.  Got some great footage and also used two different cameras to collect it.

So far there have been a few challenges. Perhaps the biggest one has been with the low light capability on my cameras. I have been a little spoiled lately with my Canon 7D (though for pictures, not using it for run-and-gun video situations).  It has extraordinary capability and can take virtually noiseless pictures at 3200 ISO.  This means that low light, especially when shooting with an f 2.8 or wider aperture is not a problem (I got some great shots from a dance recital end of April).  At any rate, video cameras are not always so great. I usually shoot with my JVC GZ-HD7 which is now a pretty dated camera- but it was one of the first to do "Full" tapeless High Definition video. It has a 3 CCD sensor so the image quality is very good.. but not so in low light.  The auto-gain (in layman's terms, gain is similar to ISO on a camcorder) is very bad and typically saturates the picture with a reddish hue. I tend to shoot video without the gain on because it just doesn't look right, and it's very difficult to correct in post production.

So... I decided to shoot some footage with my "b-cam" (if you can even call it that), which happens to be a Kodak Playsport. The image quality is surprisingly good, and acceptable for something informal like a rehearsal dinner.  Unfortunately, the "scene" during dinner was extremely low light and I ended up with a lot of noise coming out of the Kodak.  The noise was so bad I thought I was going to have unusable footage, but I found a product called "NeatVideo" which has a great noise reduction filter and plugs in to different video camera software including FCP 7.  The filter did a great job and at some point I'll post a before/after (but you can see good examples of this on the site as well).  Problem #1 was solved, and now I'm currently on my way to dealing with Problem #2.

Problem #2 is with my JVC GZ-HD7 video camera. Unfortunately, this problem is due to a design flaw, and exacerbated by age. While my camera was cutting edge when I purchased it 5 years ago, it's getting older and the problem is becoming more pronounced. After the camera is going for a while, the CCD gets pretty hot and eventually, the "dreaded white dot" appears on the picture.  This wasn't so bad a few years ago when it was just one dot and came up after 2-3 hours of use.  However, after reviewing my latest footage, there is more than a few white dots, and one of them happens to be right smack in the middle of the picture!   Fortunately, there is a video filter out there that allows you to replace bad pixels by interpolating the ones bordering them.  Needless to say I am experimenting with this filter.  I found a great article and a sample here, using FXScript.

Given my issues with my video cameras, I think it is finally time for me to replace my trusty JVC. I've been researching the Canon XF100 since October of last year and I think I will be going with it. Apparently, the BBC has it on it's list as an approved camera for doing broadcast quality video. Slashcam (where I frequent) rates it very high, it seems to do very well in low lighting... etc. I think it will be the perfect camera for me.  There is also a JVC successor (the HM 150), but it appears to have the same "dreaded white dot" issue.  I frequently visit and post on dvinfo.net which is a GREAT resource for anyone that works with video a lot- coupled with slashcam, it's kind of like the video camera version of dpreview.

So... a lot of multi media work going on right now.  I haven't even touched on some of the other activities I'm planning, but I'll go ahead and list them here:

- Hungary Missions Trip - video and pictures, coming up in July
- 3 on 3 Soccer travel team
- Someone on the soccer team requested me to take pictures of a few softball teams they coach
- Cheerleading Camp
- Tumbling classes and associated performances
- Misc. stuff this summer (birthday parties, pool parties, etc) 
- Midwest Geobash (assuming we make it)

Shaping up to be a lot of work!! But looking forward to it.

WWDC 2012 News & Update.
Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you probably heard some of the recent Mac announcements.  Here are some of the ones that jumped out at me:
  • Retina displays for the new Macbook Pro's! Usb 3.0!   Glad to see this new direction, but I'm certainly not going out and buying a new one any time soon. Especially since the new 15" models are almost the price of the former 17" models. Not enough value there yet.
  • No more 17" MBP's (though I'm not sure if that will stay the case) - Makes me happy that I picked the last model year up.
  • Apparently, no update this year for the Mac Pro or desktop stuff in general, but supposedly that will come next year - no big surprise to me, as this stuff is more targeted for niche professionals and Apple is probably not making a huge amount on this market segment.
  • Mountain Lion will be $19.99 and released in July. It includes new cloud features, etc and AirPlay mirroring and may finally get me to purchase an Apple TV.  That means I'll be able to watch full screen Netflix videos without getting Mac-burn on my knees, and/or not having to power up the Xbox 360!
In general I think the news has been good. It looks like CEO Tim Cook is doing a fair job so far.  I think time will tell if Apple will keep the "cutting edge" reputation. I'm sure there are quite a few articles out there that are analyzing his every step and playing the "WWSJD" angle (what would Steve Jobs Do).

With all that news, I think I am planning for a few new Mac Adventures this year- some are still on the plate from last when I first got my Mac.
  • Eventually get a thunderbolt SSD drive. I'd like something for when I'm working on videos. This will help immensely when doing the rendering in FCP.
  • Replace my seagate hybrid drive with a full SSD internal drive. Prices are really starting to come down now. Once I can get a 512GB SSD for around $300 I may do so. As I write this, they are still around $400 but dropping fast.
  • Reconsider "Zune" and embrace iTunes.  Zune just doesn't play well on the Mac platform, and I've noticed the selection on the Zune Pass is getting worse and worse. I may dump it for iTunes.  On the other hand, I like where Windows Phone is headed (I might consider a Win Phone 8 when they come out).
Well that is about it for this post. Hope you've enjoyed it, and I plan on being a little more regular with my postings this summer. I think I'll have a lot to blog about.

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