Sigma 19mm DN Art f2.8 Amazing Lens with a Video Auto Focus Problem.

The very first lens I bought for my Sony a6000 was the 19mm Sigma DN Art f2.8. For under $200 you get a lens that is super sharp. According to most reviewers, dollar for dollar, it outperforms the competition.

Flag over Washington (Half Mast)I have been very happy with it. I’ve taken some great pictures. On an APS-C sensor, the 19mm is a handy focal length for catching pictures of kids inside the house. It’s not too bad for wider landscapes. Or shots like the one above.

There is a problem, however, when you use it with AF turned on for video recording.

I didn’t notice it for a long time. If you’re running hand held, you might never notice it. On Youtube it’s not easy to see, unless you’re looking for it. And I wasn’t. The I pulled up the footage on my computer. How could I miss this?

But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t look at any footage on a tripod or slider without seeing it. What is it?

Here’s a video that shows the issue very clearly. Watch the edges:

Slowed down like this, the jitter on the edges of the frame is very visible. I pulled down a few videos I shot with it. (But not everything.) But every video I’ve checked has the issue. I’ve used the lens for several videos, but none were reviews of the lens. All were about something else, so I didn’t notice. they look fine where the center of focus is, where your attention is drawn. I don’t “pixel peep” with most of my gear. The center of the lens is sharp, and looks great. But with the autofocus on, the edges shake and jitter.

When I was researching this lens, every review was positive. I didn’t find one mention of this issue. Now there are a few posts about it. Some videos like the one above. I’d hate for someone who wanted this lens for video to not know about this issue, so I’m doing my part.

I love this lens for pictures. But I can’t recommend it for video.

Advertisements

Captioning for Amazon Video Direct (using Adobe Premiere)

I have previously written about Amazon Video Direct (AVD). It’s an awesome opportunity for indie filmmakers to get your content in front of a large potential audience, and it pays better than Youtube. For stand alone or episodic content, it’s a great outlet.

One thing might slow you down as you start to publish your videos on Amazon: Captioning.

Amazon Video requires that all content be captioned before they will publish it. Period. That can be a bit scary. A few years ago I paid about $2500 to a captioning/delivery house to caption and deliver 10 episodes (22:30 each) to a TV network. Now, they captioned the shows in both 708 and 608 captions, and delivered the files in HD to the network and gave me copies of the .scc 608 files so I could use them later. But still, $250 per episode. I’m making indie films with budgets less than that.

Luckily, Amazon suggests a few online captioning services which are much less expensive. One, Rev.com, offers captioning for $1 per minute and delivers in various formats. They can provide captions that are AVD compliant. They even have a free caption converter, should you need one. That means my 22:30 shows would cost about $23 for captioning for AVD.

Still, $23 is money you may not want to spend. What if you want to make your own? You can, but Amazon is very finicky about their files. I will share what I have learned. I have 1 season (10 episodes) of a show and 2 short films available right now, with 1 more short film in review. (Now published)

Adobe Premiere has the ability to create and export closed caption files. But getting a caption file that AVD likes is not simple. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Create a 608 Caption file. Premiere will do 708 files, but Amazon does not seem to like these 708 files. I have only had success with 608 files exported from Adobe for Amazon. Premiere can even import existing .scc files, allowing you to edit them.

Export .scc or .srt. When exporting your video file for upload, export a sidecar caption file as either an .scc or .srt. If you have content that is 29.97 use the .scc format, otherwise use the .srt. AVD says they will take an .stl file, which Premiere will export. But I’ve not had any luck using that format.

If you’re lucky, that’s all you need to do. Just upload and publish.

For my last short film I was not lucky. I was exporting a 23.976 fps file using .srt, and I could not get AVD to accept it. It was exactly like a previously accepted caption file for a previous short film. What was the problem? After trying multiple files over multiple days, I was frustrated. I turned up this post in the Adobe Community Forums. Scrolling through I found 2 solid things to try.

1. The timecode of your captions cannot overlap the same frame.

In Premiere you can see where one caption ends and another begins. Here’s a screen shot from premiere of my latest short film:

If the 1st caption you see ends at 00:00:20:08 and the next captions starts at 00:00:20:08, AVD has a problem with that file. So you need to go through all your captions and make sure none of them overlap.

2. Remove extra content.

During the exchange in the post in the Adobe Forum “Joshb88988268” says, “open the .SRT file with notepad and do a search for this: or the word font color. Delete any that pop up.”

As a mac user I found a free program called Brackets and was able to open the .srt file. Sure enough there were 2 lines with the tag and some extra info about “font color”. I deleted those lines and hit save. My captions in the code editor looked like this:

No extra tags or words. Just number of caption, timecode, and caption content. Brackets should also be able to open a .scc file.

So far that seems to have worked. At this point I have to ask myself, if I’m uploading a 4 minute short film, is it worth spending $4 to bypass all this effort? It might be. But since I have the captions done, I would like to be able to use them.

[Update: while I was typing this post, Amazon has begun approving my video. Looks like the latest captions with these changes worked.]

6 things I Learned Shooting My First Short Documentary Film

I’ve been working on a short documentary about my son’s last speech and debate tournament, specifically focused on the Team Policy debates in which he competed. It was a guerrilla style shoot. I had permission to shoot his teammate, but no one else. I could not disrupt the competition any more than any parent with a camera might. No extra lights. No extra people. Just capturing the event in real time with my Sony a6000, 3 prime lenses, and a Rode Smartlav+ microphone recorded into my phone. It was a true Run & Gun situation. Here are a few things I learned…

Story. Doing an actual documentary is different than most of the work I’ve done. I know how to shoot and edit a testimony video, but that’s not a documentary. Before the tournament, I spent time mapping out the structure of the short film. While I didn’t know what would happen, I did know the sequence of events, so I laid out the possible plan and tried to capture the actual events as they happened. As the tournament progressed, I could see how things would fit into my traditional story structure.

Pack Light. Because I was a one man crew, everything I needed was with me, all the time. I had gone through my gear, and left much of it at home. But I was still carrying around a medium sized camera backpack. And I still had gear I didn’t need. In order to grab my camera for a quick shot, I had to take off the backpack lay it down somewhere, open it up and pull out the camera. To downsize a bit more, and make access to gear a bit faster, I just ordered a camera sling bag. It’s large enough to carry a camera and a couple of lenses, etc… But smaller than a back pack and you can sling the bag around to the front, and access the gear on the run.

Invest in a zoom. Lens swapping is a pain. And real life doesn’t wait.

When shooting on a set, there is always time to swap out a lens. In between takes, you can switch over to a different focal length of the super fast prime you have. But in a documentary shoot, people aren’t waiting. Life is happening, the event is going on. Not only do you have a chance to miss the shot, but you might also disrupt the very event you’re trying to capture. During one debate round I was using my 19mm lens, and wanted a tighter shot. I was so nervous that opening my camera bag would be noticed by the competitors. I hope that didn’t happen, I tried to be so quiet. With a zoom, this wouldn’t be an issue.

Which zoom? On the Sony E Mount system, the reach and quality of the 18-105 F4 G series (SELP18105G) would seem to be a good fit. The longest lens I had with me was a 50mm, and I was wishing for longer options. It’s a constant aperture. I wish it was a bit faster, but it would only be a problem in the most dim rooms. I found that most of the time I was shooting f3.5 to 5.6. Of course the ISO was almost always at 1600 in the classrooms. Assuming I can continue to push the ISO that high, losing a couple of stops of light might be a decent trade off for the extra length. But at $500+, it’s out of reach for now.

Another option would be to adapt an older zoom of similar reach. You can often find vintage 35-105mm zooms for cheap. Just read the reviews on each one and make sure you have the proper adapter. Of course, you give up all automatic functions with these. I just ordered a Vivitar (Made by Koburi) 35-105mm f3.2-4 Macro lens for $26, shipped. I already own the right camera mount adapter. It won’t be as sharp or easy to use as the Sony 18-105mm. And I wish it was a constant aperture, but I’m hopeful it can fill the gap until I can swing the money. I’m sure I will still carry the 19mm and 35mm primes I have, but the 35-105mm could be my go to glass for future shoots.

A shotgun mic would help. Prior to the event I though I had worked out how to use a small shotgun (Rode VideoMicro) and record it into my phone. My goal was small footprint. I did not want to call attention to myself. I didn’t want to set up a full size shotgun with an external recorder. I tested the small shotgun, and would have sworn that I had the cabling worked out. But the day before the event I was charging batteries, and set up the mic to test it once more, and discovered that it was not passing signal. I needed a special cable to convert the TRS connection to a TRRS for the phone input. (Rode sells one: the SC7). I didn’t have time to get the proper adapter, so I punted. I ended up using the omni directional Smartlav+ to record audio. And, while it’s not as good as… pretty much any directional microphone at a distance, it was a lot better than the on camera mic. With some post work, some of the audio will be usable. But a shotgun mic would have been a huge help.

A camera with an audio input would help. My a6000 is a solid mirrorless camera. But it isn’t perfect, and one of the flaws is that it lacks an external audio input jack. While I would probably still use the Smartlav+ with my phone, having an on camera shotgun, recording directly into the camera would be good. Even if the small shotgun had worked, mounting the mic to my camera and then extending the cable to my phone would have been awkward at best. A much simpler solution would be to shoot on a camera that actually has the ability to record external audio. Of course the simple solution costs hundreds of dollars.

Get permission. I mentioned that this was a guerrilla style shoot. I got verbal permission from the judges in the room, and competitors. But the competitors are minors. So in order to actually use the footage I shot I cannot show any faces of minors since I don’t have permission from parents. They cannot be recognizable. I won’t identify the location, or even the organization. I knew that going in, so I shot accordingly. It would have been infinitely better to have the written permission from the event organizers, the location, and every parent of every student in each round. That wasn’t feasible for this project. In the future, I want to do more to get permissions, so I won’t be as constrained on the shoot.

As I’m closing in on the final edits of the project, I’m fairly well satisfied with it. Assuming I do similar projects later what I’ve learned with help make them even better.

[Image courtesy of Greenleaf Designs at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

Releasing Your Episodic Content on Amazon Video/ Amazon Prime

IMG_7243My low budget Christian sitcom Peculiar is now available on Amazon Video! (also my short film BRKN, if you’re interested.)

Since the first episodes started broadcasting in late 2012, I have wanted to see the show available on a major streaming service. Until recently the best (only?) route was to hire an aggregator to try to place your content in iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and anywhere else with a VOD distribution pipeline. Most of those were several hundred dollars up front, no promises. A few would try to place your content for a percentage of what you might make off views/sales.

I’ve never tried to cash in on Peculiar. It wasn’t a huge financial success. Not only did I not have several hundred dollars to spend on this, I didn’t expect to make back any investment that large.  But I do want this series to be available to as many people as possible. After my amicable split with my traditional distributor, I contacted one of the percentage based aggregators. He replied honestly, and not surprisingly, that he felt he could place my show on Amazon, but nowhere else. But I would need to rework the closed caption files. At that time, costs of captioning was a huge hurdle.  I did find a way to get the content onto Amazon Video myself. But, the files would be Standard Definition, not HD. and I could not submit episodic content. I actually questioned an Amazon Create Space representative pretty hard about why this was the case. I never received a satisfactory answer. Any episode I uploaded to Amazon would be low resolution and would stand alone. The only way to get Amazon to group all of the episodes from your series together was to use an aggregator. So I tabled the idea.

Enter Amazon Video Direct. (AVD)

In May of 2016 Amazon announced it’s new service.  Open “to any video creator, the e-commerce giant will compete head-to-head with Google’s YouTube for video-ad dollars and views as well as other big Internet video distributors like Facebook and Vimeo.”  What that boils down to is a way for independent content creators to upload their video creations to Amazon and make them available through the streaming site. You can upload any short, feature, series, documentary… anything, and make it available to Amazon’s streaming audience. The company shares revenue for purchases and pays similar to Youtube for free Prime streaming. You could even set up a subscription service through AVD, but I don’t know much about that.

So, how do you use it?

  1. Got Content? First, of course you need content that you have permission to, or own the rights to distribute in this manner. I don’t yet know how content ID is going to work, but you can bet that like Youtube, computers will be scanning this library to find copyright violations.

  2. Set up your account. You will need to add your bank and tax information before you can publish your content.

  3. Prep your content. AVD supports Pro Res 422, MPEG-2, and h.264 (in certain wrappers. h.264 in a QT .mov wrapper is not supported.). I uploaded my files in a Quicktime Pro Res 422 file. These files are huge. But they are also pretty much lossless, when compared to the MPEG2 or h.264 formats. Plus I had my series stored in this format. But upload speed is critical. Try to find a commercial connection you can use. It would take me days to upload just one file if I tried to do this at home. If you have 5.1 surround audio, then you will need to use either the MPEG 2 or h.264 file format.

  4. Prep Your captions. You must have closed captioning. Period. The end. Luckily, there are quite a few ways to get captions for your content. You can pay, but if you use Adobe Premiere CC, you can create them inside the editor. I already had .scc files from when my show was broadcast. But they were 608, roll up captions, and timed for a 28:30 show with 2:00 breaks. Adobe CC imported them like a champ, and allowed me to make edits as needed. I exported the 608 captions to a “sidecar” .scc file and we were good to go. AVD can take 608 or the much nicer 708 captions. Both can be created in Adobe CC. This is the single biggest hurdle for publishing videos on AVD. I gave up on a 708 caption file I created myself for a standalone short film, and I am still having issues with their process. I have only been able to get an .scc 608 caption file to work for content with a 29.97 fps, so far. Even 608 captions for 24p content with an .xml caption file have been rejected. [Update: In the end a 608.srt file worked with 24p content. In my experience 2 file types that Premiere can create that work with AVD: 30fps can use .scc 608, 24fps can use .srt 608.]

  5. Prep Your Graphics. Before you can publish your videos, you need a graphics package. This is what Amazon shows people when they look for your content. There are key graphics and a background graphic. Follow the image size requirements, and choose something that will catch the eye of your audience. I had a set of promotional images I’ve used for the show for years, so I adjusted them to fit these sizes. Episodic content requires both a 16×9 key image and a 4:3 Key image. (Standalone content requires 16×9 and a 3:4 image.)

  6. Upload. If you have a series, you don’t have to upload every file at the same time. You will need to have all the metadata filled in, cast and crew, graphics, etc… and then select the video files and captions, select the availability of the content. If you want to sell a season pass, you need at least 3 episodes uploaded. You can select when you want the content to be available, but I just chose as soon as possible.

  7. Publish. Once you think you have everything ready, hit Publish. If you forgot anything, you will have the chance to correct it. Then be prepared to wait. It takes Amazon a few days to look at your content and publish it. You will see small green circles for the areas the content will eventually be available. They should be half full and green. Once everything is approved and live, they will be all green. I published episodes over a period of time. My “circles” would still be half full, but episodes would already be available for viewing. Once every video file has been approved, then it will show completed. What if you want to change something? Then just go back into the dashboard of AVD, re upload the file, change the txt, etc… and hit save. Then wait several days again for the changes to take effect.

  8. Promote. Amazon has instructions on how to link to the streaming page for your content, and some “Watch on Amazon” graphics. And of course, you will want to let your existing audience know about this new outlet.

So far over 350 minutes of content have been watched. That will pay me… less than $1.00. But that’s OK, I’m not trying to get rich on Amazon, I want people to see the projects I’ve been a part of. If you can navigate the tricky caption requirement, making your content available on Amazon Video open it up to a whole new, pretty large, audience.

[Update: 8 months later, I consistently make 4-5 times more for views of the 12 videos I have on AVD vs the 60+ videos I have on Youtube. I’ve done nothing but make it available, no advertising, very little promotion.]

“No Excuses” Sermon Series: Quick Comedy

In late 2015 our creative team met with pastoral leadership to discuss upcoming sermon series for 2016. One of the ones that got me most excited was called “No Excuses.” In our creative time we planned to shoot 6 comedic videos that show cased excuses that Christians give when talking about why they don’t share their faith. They had to be short, and they had to be funny.

2016 turned into a very busy year for video production at the church. Including the weekly video announcements, 2 video creators were tasked with completing 36 video projects in just under 3 months. A difficult task no matter what sort of videos are required. A short film project is a whole extra level of complication. after meeting about the workload, and planning an aggressive production schedule, we decided to go ahead with the series as planned.

Here’s the series broken down by the numbers:

-6 two-minute short films used as sermon bumpers.

-2 couples with limited acting experience playing the characters.

-4 days of shooting on a very small budget: We bought a few props.

-2 weeks after the first day of shooting the first film was shown.

-9 weeks total for production and post for all six short films.

-12 other video projects completed during the same 9 weeks.

Obviously,  that’s an insane schedule, but I wanted very much to keep it. I felt that sing humor to broach the subject of reasons why people don’t share their faith was the right approach. And I just like filmmaking. It’s incredible that I can sometimes do it as a part of my job. The fact that we were able to complete these projects is largely due to a lot of pre production and planning. Nothing ever goes according to plan, but that work paid off, as it always does.

Watch the entire series below:

Excuses #1: The only people I know are Christians.

Excuses #2: I’m not qualified.

Excuse #3: I don’t want to push my faith on other people.

Excuse #4: People might make fun of me.

Excuses #5: I’m too busy.

Excuse #6: I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.

Recent Short Films and New Projects

sl media 16x9

Thanks for visiting Scott Link Media. Stay up to date with the latest news by subscribing to our email newsletter.

If you click on the header above you will end up on the main page, where you can see 3 different video sections, Short Films/TV, Church Media, and DIY. Each contain several videos for your viewing pleasure; including links to some episodes of the award winning series Peculiar.

Here’s the latest short film from SLM:

And another of my favorites from a while back:

Mean while I’m working on some more short projects.

The major projects I’ve got cooking include a feature length movie about small church politics called Flawed, and a screenplay that’s a biblical epic based on portions of the book of Acts with the working title One Centurion. And there’s a campy comedy about church camp. And lately I’ve been drawn back to the documentary idea Gay Church. Follow the links to find out more.

“BRKN” by the Numbers

BRKN logoPost is progressing swiftly on the short film BRKN. I thought I share some of the numbers associated with it.

13 Dollars. The actual amount of money spent. For snacks. I either owned or borrowed everything else. No-budget production.

300 Dollars. How much would have been spent for camera/lighting rental if I didn’t own or borrow the gear.

3 Hours. Length of time actually shooting on set.

2 Weeks. Length of time in Preproduction.

3 People. The number of bodies on the set. 2 actors and me. That’s it. Think that’s not enough? Me too. Want to help out next time? Shoot me an email: scott(at)scottlinkmedia.com.

5 minutes. Approximate length of BRKN.

1 camera. A Sony a6000.

2 Lenses. A Sigma 19mm f2.8 Art and a Pentax A f4 35-70mm Adapted to E Mount. The AF on the a6000 with the 19mm allowed me to do a couple of camera moves I wouldn’t have tried.

1 DIY Slider. My RigWheels/Cam-On-Wheels style home-made slider. Performed very well.

It was great to be on set again, and I am hoping to do another project soon.

BRKN Update

BRKN logoPost on the short film BRKN is making progress. The edit is complete, and I need to add music and color grade. I hope to complete it this week.

Assuming all goes plan, from concept to completion in under a month.

I hope to do another one in late Summer. I’d like to do the sci fi/thriller I have the script for, but will need to see if I can find enough cast and crew. If not, I will come up with another idea.

Filmmaking is fun. And scary, because you are putting something you created out there. The more I do it, the better I get at it. But I always have the same fears before I shoot and before I release a project.

How to Shoot a Short Film in 3 Hours

BRKN logoOn Saturday we shot my short film “BRKN”. It took right about 3 hours to shoot, not counting set up and tear down. I had thought it could have taken as long as 6 hours, hoped it would take about 4.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was planning to shoot a large project, over 2 days with a bigger cast and crew, with practical effects that would require equipment. I had gear and props, but I lacked people. Plus the abnormally heavy rains here in East TX would have made these outdoor shoots more difficult.

So, I pulled back. Quickly developed a new, simpler idea. on that I could shoot with less people, in a controlled environment. Even though it was a short script, I was surprised how well the shoot went. Not every shoot goes smoothly.

How did we shoot in 3 hours? I’m still learning how to be a good filmmaker. But these are some things that helped me for this shoot.

Pre Production

I didn’t have a lot of time. I needed a script that I could shoot with 2 actors and a one man crew. I use the Celtx online studio to help with all aspects of preproduction. I write, then do the break down, shot list, schedule and it automatically generates reports for each day of shooting.

Every minute you spend in preproduction saves many more in production and post. In this case, because I was shooting at my own home, I could really focus in on the shots. I still didn’t do storyboards, but I did walk every angle.

I have been on shoots without preproduction. The ones where you show up and there’s no gear. Where you desperately need lights or something, but you have nothing. The ones where the schedule is way too ambitious. Do yourself a favor. Do the work in preproduction.

Controlled Environment

I could walk the angles because I controlled the environment. I didn’t just scout the location, I was able to set up lights the day before and do tests. I didn’t have a big crew. In fact, the entire crew was me. I had to be in a controlled space. Because I had that access and control, this shoot didn’t have any surprises.

That’s not always possible. And that’s OK. You need to shoot where you need to shoot. But be aware of the location and make your plans. Knowing the location can keep unpleasant surprises from throwing off your schedule.

Good Actors

The two actors in “BRKN”, Anna Walker and Derek Henning, are really great. They didn’t just agree to do the movie for no money, they learned their lines and even got together and rehearsed before showing up on set. They had read the script, thought about it, and prepared for the shoot. Having the right people in your cast can make or break your shoot.

I wish I could say I have always had actors as good as these on set. I’ve had actors show up who obviously hadn’t looked at the script more than once. There are people who aren’t serious about it, or are just too busy. I’ve only had a couple of actors bail on a shoot completely, but that required major rewrites of a script at the last minute.

When you have actors who are not as good as they might be, you can adapt and overcome. You can feed the lines to them. you can adapt and overcome. But it takes time.

I am so grateful for Anna and Derek’s work on this project. Their professionalism was a big part of a this shoot’s success.

We were able to capture everything we needed fairly smoothly. There is no way to keep every problem from every set. Things will go wrong. Be flexible and solution focused. Get your project shot.

Now I need to get into Post production on “BRKN”. That will take longer than 3 hours.