The new 4K BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera, out in September 2018, looks really useful for creative filmmakers who want high quality images at an affordable price. At $1295 (around £1200) it’s around half the price of the Panasonic GH5S, its only direct competitor.
It can record 4K at up to 60fps in high-quality RAW and ProRes video formats. (These formats capture more information than consumer video formats so they’re easier to correct and ‘grade’.) It uses the same MFT sensor and lens mount as Panasonic and Olympus. The new camera should be better in low light than the older Cinema Cameras, with a maximum ISO of 25600 and a Dual ISO option. Dynamic range is a claimed 13 stops.
You can use SD, UHS II and CFast 2.0 cards. Usefully (as 4K RAW files are huge) you can also output direct to an external USB-C SSD drive.There’s a mini-XLR input for pro microphones, a full sized HDMI output, and a big fixed 5 inch touchscreen. You can power it from standard Canon LP-E6 format batteries, portable battery packs or a mains adapter. It doesn’t have in-body image stabilisation.
The camera also comes bundled with the Studio version of BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve editing and colour correction software, which normally retails at $300/£229.
Both cameras can shoot dual native ISO for better low light performance, though the GH5s has a higher maximum iso (51200 rather than 25600). But the relatively small MFT sensor means neither camera will be great in low light compared to APS-C, Super 35 or ‘full frame’ cameras.
The BlackMagic has more connectivity, a bigger screen, and is much more affordable than the Panasonic. The mini-XLR input is useful: you need a $400/£300 audio module to connect pro mics to the Panasonic.
The Panasonic has a swivelling 3.2 inch screen and an eye-level electronic viewfinder, while the BlackMagic’s larger 5 inch screen is fixed.
If it lives up to expectations, the 4K Pocket looks to be great value for filmmakers looking for very high image quality in controlled conditions. But I think the Panasonic will be more usable and durable in the field.
Check price/pre-order BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K Adorama (USA)
The H1n is really useful for capturing ambient sound
Design and controls are better than on the H1
It performs much better in windy conditions
The Zoom H1n is a small, pocketable audio recorder which can record high quality audio with its built-in mic or an external mic.
It replaces the Zoom H1. That was popular with ultra low budget filmmakers because it was small and extremely affordable, though it had some frustrating limitations. How does the new device compare?
Why’s it useful?
First question: why would you need an audio recorder? Well, they’re really useful for filmmaking. Here are a few ways to use them:
Connected to an SLR or mirrorless camera
SLRs and mirrorless cameras aren’t great for recording live audio. Some lack headphone sockets, or have weak internal audio circuits. With a recorder, you can capture a completely separate stereo audio track, then sync up the sound when you edit. You can either use the Zoom’s built-in stereo microphones, or connect a lav or other minijack microphone. You can then connect the Zoom’s headphone socket to your camera’s audio input. If your camera doesn’t have a headphone socket, just plug a two-in-one splitter into the Zoom headphone jack.
As a separate recorder
Your Zoom doesn’t have to be connected to your camera. For interviews, or even for drama scenes, you can mount it on a mini-tripod closer to your presenter or actor, then sync the sound later. If you’re recording a complex scene, you could hide two or three Zooms in different positions to make sure you get all the sound you need.
Instead of a wireless mic
Can’t afford a wireless setup? Connect a lavalier (tieclip) mic to a Zoom in your talent’s pocket, then sync the sound afterwards.
On a boom
Proper directional boom microphones are expensive. So I’ve put my Rode VideoMic Pro on a boom, and connected it to a Zoom H1 clamped to the boom. Once again, you sync your video at the editing stage.
To capture additional sounds
Sometimes the sounds you record live just aren’t suitable, and the sound effects in your editing program won’t do the job either. So you can use the Zoom as a field recorder and go and look for them. Because it’s so small, you can put it on a boom pole or adapted monopod to get it close to the audio source.
I’ve used all of these setups with the original Zoom H1, and it worked pretty well in most of them. But it did have some major drawbacks, mainly that it was useless in any kind of wind. Even a $35 Redhead windscreen from Hawaii couldn’t fix that, because wind noise across the body would be transmitted to the microphones. The device was also very sensitive to handling noise.
The new H1n
I think the original was really meant for musicians, which is why it doesn’t work well oudoors. Now Zoom have redesigned it and added some specific filmmaking features.
The new model looks and feels better made, with a matt plastic body. Size and shape are almost identical, though the main body is a fraction wider and thinner, and the microphone cage is more substantial. There are useful detail changes: the body is shaped to make it easier to handhold, and the battery compartment opens much more easily.
As with the H1, the microphone configuration is X-Y (a crossed pair) which provides a good stereo image. The microphone capsules themselves look similar but they’re better protected. Like the old model, the H1n can record MP3 or WAV with a maximum quality of 96KHz 24 bit.
It records to microSD cards. Like the H1, it has a small built-in speaker and can provide plug-in power to unpowered mics. There’s a USB socket to connect it to a computer (you can use it as a USB voiceover microphone). It takes two AAA batteries rather than the H1’s single AA; you can also power it from an external USB battery pack.
Controls and features
There are some big changes to the controls. Some of the H1’s settings were on the back, which could be inconvenient. Now you can access the main controls and settings from the front (power on/off, delete and headphone level are on the sides). There’s also a physical dial for making rapid adjustments to the audio input level; record and playback controls are close together.
Four function buttons allow quick access to audio format and bit rate; a lo cut filter; a new audio limiter; and auto level. The Stop button works as an option key – when it’s pressed, the function buttons can enable auto record,pre-record, a self timer and sound mark. The sound mark generates a tone when you press record which you can use as a slate to match camera and recorder audio.
In playback mode, you can add marks (eg to pick out key moments from an interview), check info about the recording, repeat and select sections. You can also adjust the playback speed for easier reviewing and transcription, and apply basic effects (adjusting for speech, volume cut, ‘rock’ and bass.)
Pressing Stop and Play buttons together outputs a reference tone, for setting audio levels on the camera.
The backlit monochrome LCD screen is brighter and more informative than the old one.
Like its predecessor, the H1n can record a beautiful stereo image from its internal microphone. But unlike the H1, it’s genuinely usable outdoors. The booming wind noise that plagued the old model has disappeared. You do still need a furry windshield: the Redhead works well (though it partly obscures the screen and dial) or you could use Zoom’s own WSU-1.
Handling noise is also reduced, but you still need to be careful. In my tests, I mainly mounted the H1n on a Gorillapod, while the tests at the beach were on a Manbily monopod (reversed as a boom pole). But I held the device body in my hands for the final clip in the park, and you can hear some slight handling noise.
It’ll also pick up camera noise if you mount it directly to a hot shoe: you need a suspension mount, especially if you’re handholding the camera.
You can get slight hiss with some external microphones, depending on their output level. It’s excellent with the Rode VideoMic Pro (on +20dB output) though I was disappointed with the quality from the Boya BY-M1.
I did these tests in different conditions: speech indoors and outdoors using the built-in microphones and a couple of external microphones. I also tried using it for recording feet walking on pebbles, waves lapping on the beach, and ambient sound in the pier and in a park.
Zoom H1n tests - Vimeo
Value and verdict
I’m really pleased with the H1n, particularly with the results from the built-in microphones. The new controls and options are useful, but for me the biggest plus is the lack of wind noise. It’s extremely useful to have a pocketable recorder that can capture good stereo sound in most conditions.
The H1n is great for filmmaking, and a good introduction to audio field recording. It costs about a third more than the old H1, but it’s still one of the most compact and affordable recorders you can buy.
Disclaimer: Zoom sent me a free H1n to test, but I haven’t been paid to write this review.
+ The Steadicam Volt is faster and more responsive than electronic stabilisers
+ It uses affordable, easily available batteries
– It’s slow to set up and takes time to learn – It can’t do vertical video or object tracking, and there’s no tripod socket
The Steadicam Volt is a unique stabiliser which combines physical and electronic stabilisation. It works with smartphones and action cameras.
It’s based on the same principle as the original Steadicam, which revolutionised filmmaking in the 1970s. So it uses a counterweight to balance the camera, and a physical gimbal to allow free movement. This allows for very fluid motion, but it requires more skill than all-electronic devices.
Traditional Steadicams are big and heavy. The Volt is relatively small and light, but it’s kept steady by a built-in motorised gyroscope. This provides ‘simulated inertia’, a trademarked feature that makes the device feel more stable without adding weight.
It takes some time to set up the Volt, though you’ll get faster with practice.
You start by folding out the balance arm, releasing the handle, and clipping a wire brace in place. Then you fold out the phone clamp and insert your device.
Now you have to adjust the balance for your specific phone or action camera (the package includes a GoPro mount). There are four steps, though you shouldn’t need to repeat the first three unless you add accessories to your device.
First you add magnetic weights to the counterbalance at the bottom of the gimbal arm to get the approximate balance. Next you use a dial to fine-tune the balance, then adjust ‘pitch’ by moving the phone forwards or backwards on its platform. Finally you need to move the phone sideways in the rubber clamp until it’s level.
Once you’ve done this the Volt will stay level, but the balance feels very delicate. But as soon as you turn it on, ‘simulated inertia’ kicks in and it immediately feels much steadier and more stable.
You can now start to ‘fly’ the device. Simple moves can be done single-handed, but using both hands gives you more control. A hand on the handle supports the device; the finger and thumb of the other hand steady it and and control pan and tilt.
It has two modes. Sport mode, for beginners, is easier to use. Movie mode allows for more subtle movements and control. You can also use the Volt upside down for low level shots.
Using the Volt
If you’re not used to manual stabilisers, it’ll take some time to get the best out of the Volt. It’s more ‘organic’ than all-electronic stabilisers, so you’ll need a light touch to get really smooth movements. If you’re heavy-handed, you’ll be working against the motor and transmitting your body movements to the device.
The Volt works best with in-camera stabilisation turned off. Apple’s Camera app doesn’t allow this, so you’ll need an app that does: either Filmic Pro, or Tiffen’s own free ImageMaker. ImageMaker is very good for a free app, with the option of manual exposure and focus, and future updates will integrate with the Volt’s stabilisation. But whichever app you use, you’ll have to use the on-screen record button for filming as there are no controls on the handle.
The Volt really comes into its own with fast-moving shots: you can quickly pan across a scene to follow action, where an electronic stabiliser would lag. But it’s not as good at static shots. My Osmo Mobile makes a pretty good tripod substitute, but I couldn’t get as steady with the Volt.
The Volt also lacks a tripod socket, so you can’t put it down while you’re shooting or mount it on a boom pole.
One advantage is that unlike most motorised stabilisers, it doesn’t block the ports on the base/right of the phone. So you can connect external power packs or Lightning microphones.
It uses interchangeable, affordable (non-proprietary) lithium ion batteries with a claimed 8 hour life.
This side-by-side video compares the Volt (bottom) with the DJI Osmo Mobile (top). Both videos were shot using Filmic Pro with stabilisation turned off. The Volt was in the beginners’ Sport mode. I also did a trial in Movie mode, which was worse.
As you can see, the Osmo footage looks more stable, both in the moving and static shots. The Volt footage might get better with practice, but if you want instant results the DJI will suit you better.
Where the Volt does have the edge is in fast-moving situations. You can pan to precisely match movement, while an electronic stabiliser will lag.
Should you buy the Volt?
The Volt could be useful if you need its responsiveness, and you’re willing to take time to learn it properly. But if you want easy setup and instant results, I’d get an all-electronic stabiliser instead. That’ll also give you features that the Volt lacks, such as object tracking, a tripod socket, and the option of vertical video.
What about value? The Volt’s early Kickstarter pricing looked good compared with competitors like the original Osmo Mobile. But since then, more affordable competitors like the Osmo Mobile 2 and Zhiyun Smooth-Q make it look overpriced.
However, if you’re in the US, some online retailers are currently selling the Volt for around $80. That makes it a much better deal.
Zoom’s little H1 audio recorder was a bargain way to record good quality stereo sound for filmmaking. I’ve just received its replacement, the H1n. I’ll be writing a full review soon (now online here) but first impressions are that it’s a really solid upgrade. Major features are a physical dial to adjust the record level, and repositioned controls for easier access. It has a bigger, brighter screen than its predecessor, and build quality seems better. It’s almost exactly the same size, so it’s just as pocketable.
Key new features include overdubbing, auto recording, a tone generator and the ability to add marks when recording. But from my point of view, the best features are reduced handling noise, and far less wind noise (the old model used to pick up wind noise from its plastic body even with a furry windshield fitted). That makes it much more usable outdoors.
Panasonic’s new GH5s is an update to their flagship GH5, specifically aimed at professional video shooters. It adds more video options to the GH5’s already impressive specs, with improved low light performance. It’s the best mirrorless camera you can buy for filmmaking, unless you need to shoot in extreme low light.
Panasonic have designed the GH5s around a new sensor. The 10.2 MP sensor has around half as many effective pixels as the GH5. This makes a lot of sense for video shooters, particularly with small MFT sensors: as each pixel is bigger, it can capture more light.
This sensor is multi-aspect. Other cameras have a ‘native’ aspect ratio which they crop for different frame shapes: the GH5s has a bigger sensor which can accommodate different frame shapes without cropping. Apart from maximising image quality and low-light performance, this means you get the full benefit of wide angle lenses whichever aspect ratio you’re using.
It’s also dual-gain. You can switch between two different modes depending on how much light you have. Normal mode is based on getting the best dynamic range (the amount of contrast the camera can handle); in low-light mode the priority changes to reducing image noise.
The new sensor lacks the GH5’s impressive in-body image stabilisation. That’s because most pro users will mount the camera on a tripod, cranes or stabilisers, and in-body stabilisation makes the original GH5 prone to jitters when used in situations with a lot of vibration.
Other new pro features include timecode in and out, and the ability to shoot full ‘digital cinema’ 4K in slow motion and at PAL and NTSC television frame rates. It also includes V-log. This option – a paid add-on for the GH5 – makes contrasty scenes easier to film and to correct at the editing stage. It can also shoot HD video at up to 240fps. Autofocus is improved over the GH5.
I’m a fan of the Osmo Mobile smartphone stabiliser, but it’s a lot more expensive than competitors like the Zhiyun Smooth-Q. DJI have now announced a much more affordable, lighter new version.
The Osmo Mobile 2 will retail at $129 (UK pricing not yet announced) and has some major improvements over the original model:
it can shoot in portrait as well as landscape format
the controls are simpler
it has a tripod socket on the base, so you no longer need an adapter
it has a zoom control on the handle
The battery is now integrated, rather than interchangeable, but has an extended shooting time of up to 15 hours. And the device is made from composite materials rather than magnesium alloy, cutting the weight to 485g.
Initially the Osmo Mobile 2 will be exclusive to the Apple Store (pre-orders from 23 January, shipping in February) but will be available from DJI and other retailers later in the year.
If you want to use our clips on an iPhone or iPad, it’s easiest to download them to a computer first, expand the Zip file, then use AirDrop (Mac) or iTunes (Mac/Windows) to transfer them to your device.
But you can also download them direct, using the Documents app by Readdle.
You should only do this when connected to WiFi as the files are large. Make sure you have enough free space on your device.
First, install Documents on your device.
In Documents, open Settings (above), select File Manager, and turn on Show Photos.
In your device’s main Settings menu, go to Privacy>Photos, scroll down to Documents and enable Read/Write.
Download the Zip file to your device and select Open in ‘Documents’
In Documents, tap on the Zip file you downloaded to expand it to a folder.
Then tap on the folder to view its contents.
Tap Edit at top right. Tick below each clip you want to include, or tap ‘Select all’ (above).
Then tap Copy at the bottom of the screen.
Then tap Copy to Photos. The clips will be added to your camera roll.
I recently filmed a stage show in Ireland. I needed a Canon 5D Mk III to match the one the client was supplying. But renting from a commercial hire company would have broken the budget.
Instead, I used Fat Lama. It’s a peer-to-peer rental site: you hire gear from other filmmakers or photographers. I got a 5D (Fat Lama’s most popular SLR), two lenses, remote and 32Gb card from a filmmaker living a couple of miles away. The transaction was very straightforward. I had to upload a copy of my ID to sign up and they phoned me at home to check me out. The kit was in excellent condition, but a week’s rental cost me about the same as a day would have cost from a hire company. (I’m in a small city; prices in cities with a bigger media industry are higher, but they still seem to be around 50-70% of commercial hire rates.)
For borrowers, Fat Lama is a great way to get access to gear you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. And it’s an affordable way to try out equipment you’re thinking of buying. You can get all kinds of kit: still and video cameras, lenses, tripods, stabilisers, wireless microphones, drones and more.
For lenders, it lets you make money out of gear that would otherwise be sitting on a shelf. And it can also help you justify big camera purchases, especially if you’re in a big city like London or New York. Fat Lama claim that you can recoup the purchase price of a Canon C200, their most popular cinema camera, with 30 days hire.
The guy I hired the 5D from said Fat Lama was working well for him, and they provide insurance cover up to $30,000/£25,000. So I’m planning to start renting out some of my own underused equipment.
Fat Lama operates in the UK and the US. If you use this link to sign up you’ll get a $25/£25 credit.
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