New EOS M3: Looks Promising

Z-canon_eos_m3-rearAngle-EVF-PRSomehow I missed the launch of the Canon EOS M3 overseas. Probably because the M2 never made it to the USA, and wasn’t much of an improvement. I own the EOS M, and love it for video. Hands down, it’s the best, most cost effective way to get into HDSLR video capture. Under $300 for a body with lens. Part of the reason it is so cheap is that it wasn’t a great still image camera. You can take some nice pictures, but it just isn’t up to par with other offerings on the market, for stills. But for a video camera? It’s great for the price.

And now the M3 is out in Asia and Europe.  Check out these specs: Canon EOS M3 UK site.

Prices from eBay are running about $600. Plus the wait time and possible customs fees to get it from Japan. There are currently no plans to bring the M3 to North America. Since you can find a 70D body for just a couple hundred more why choose the EOS M3?

Well, $200 isn’t anything to sneeze at. But there are other benefits.

1. Lenses– The mirrorless body lends itself to all sorts of lens adaptations. I have 2 Pentax K mounts I use regularly on my EOS M, and neither would work on a 70D (or any other traditional APS-C Canon camera) You can use just about any lens from any manufacturer on the EOS M mount with a cheap adapter. Canon FD, Nikon, Pentax, m42, the list goes on.

2. Autofocus for Video- The 70D changed the game for HDSLR video by adding a 19 point Phase Detection continuous autofocus system on a 20 megapixel sensor.  Suddenly you could shoot DSLR video like a camcorder, sort of. The EOS M3 has 49 points of continuous AF on a new 24 Megapixel sensor. Of course, the new AF only works with lenses that can use it, and all that old glass I mentioned before doesn’t. It does, however, have focus peaking, to help with manual focus. That is huge.

3. Size- The EOS M3 is small. Very small. Half the weight of a traditional DSLR. Less than half the size. The M3 with 22mm lens can fit in your pocket.  (Albeit a loose pocket of your jacket or pants.)

Plus, Canon has addressed a lot of the concerns of the EOS M. There is an available Electronic View Finder. The back screen, while not fully articulating, can flip out to different angles (up to 180 degrees.) And of course the new AF system puts to rest all of the complaints about slow AF in the original M.

The video record resolutions are still lacking. You can do 1080p at 30p. To record in 60p you still have to drop down to 720p. Basically, it’s the same resolutions as the original.

I have to admit, I am sorely tempted to sell my EOS M and a few other gadgets to upgrade to the EOS M3.

[Update 2] The EOS M3 has been out long enough for some folks to test something besides the still image AF. I had read that the video codec was different, and it looks like it isn’t better than the old EOS M. Disappointing. it’s bad enough to not have any improvements, but to go backward? I’ve seen some video shot with the camera on Youtube, and it’s not horrible. But reviews like the one linked give some pause about purchasing.

[Update 1] Got my hands on a manual. Saw that you can use the hdmi output while shooting. Not sure if it is clean or what resolution, but anything is an improvement.

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A Quick Pluraleyes 2 Review

So, since I’m in post production on my show with a truncated timetable, I wanted to get a program to speed up syncing all the video with audio. I had heard great things about Pluraleyes.

So I snagged a fully functional trial version. (I used Pluraleyes 2 because 3 wasn’t out yet. Looks like they released version 3.)

In a word: Awesome.

When I shot the pilot it took me 3 days to sync all the cameras and audio by hand. I synced 5 entire episodes in a day and a half. Really, it was more like 8 or 9 hours. I cannot tell you what a big deal this is. I can now be about the business of actually editing the scenes together.

I will be buying the retail version.

My workflow: Shoot with two HDSLRs and record audio to a Zoom H4n. Convert the h.264 raw files from the HDSLRs to Apple pro res 422 in Mpeg Stream Clip (trim and label each clip as I go). Import into Final Cut Pro 7. And now use Pluraleyes to sun two cameras and the Zoom audio.

Couple of warnings: You can push the program too far. If you have a lot of similar sounding clips, it can confuse the program. I had a few clips it just couldn’t sync. but they are easily placed by hand. It takes a lot less time to place a couple clips than to place them all.

Also, make sure your audio guy is rolling before the cameras start, and after they stop. If the audio is shorter than the video clips, you will end up with two synced videos and an unsynced audio clip. You can go back and placed the two video clips by hand, but it’s simpler if you just make sure the audio is rolling before and after each take. Plenty of pre- and post- roll on your audio tracks will help Pluraleyes do its job.

My New DSLR, the Canon 60D

I know the 60D isn’t really new. I have recently been searching for a new video capable DSLR. I had planned to bide my time, but frankly I found a good deal and couldn’t pass it up. I had sold my Pentax DSLR and lenses, and a few other odds and ends. I had the cash on hand, and saw a deal. I had planned at the very least to wait until a new body came out, which should in turn drive prices down on older bodies.

I settled on a Canon 60D. Not because it’s the best video DSLR ever made, but it fits my needs. It has full function video capture, and takes great pictures. And it’s available for under $1000. Since this is my personal camera, video is important, but it is also the one I’m going to be capturing family memories on.

I had been considering the Panasonic GH2, which is an incredible video camera. There are tons of advantages to it. But it finally came down to comfort with the Canon bodies (we use them at work) and access to great lenses to borrow (most of my friends shoot Canon), and comfort with still image quality from Canon. There is no store locally that carries the GH2, so I could not look at it in person. The ability to adapt all sorts of lenses to the body is great, but you do lose the auto functions. Bottom line, it would be a risk to buy it. I was able to find a 60D with some great accessories for less.

I bought a used 60D with a Canon Grip, an EF-S focusing screen and an extra battery for less than the GH2 body costs. I’m pretty excited about it.

Of course, now I’m facing the reality of Canon lens costs. I will definitely be collecting some primes. I don’t see myself dropping a grand on a zoom lens any time soon. But a “nifty fifty” is a definite. Probably an EF 28mm f2.8 as well. After that we will see. I can tell I’m going to miss throwing a $20 at an old manual lens like you can with Pentax.

Geeking Out vs. Creating

I’ve been looking for a new mid level HDSLR. So I’ve been reading the internet a lot. There’s a lot to read.

One thing that strikes me is that there are tons and tons of videos available on Vimeo and Youtube that compare the features of one video capable DSLR to another, but there are not that many simply creative videos that tell a story. Do a search on either site for any major HDSLR and you can see all the video reviews you want. But there are far fewer stories for your viewing pleasure.

It’s easy to geek out on tech specs, and shoot test videos. I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it. But it is much harder to carry a creative idea to completion.

My challenge to anyone reading this is to not get tied up in the technical so much. Learn to use your tools. Make them do what you need them to do. But move past the tech to using those told to create.

Don’t just Geek Out. Tell your story.

It Figures

Right after I sell my Pentax gear they announce the new K-01 mirrorless body, compatible with all K Mount lenses. Oh, and it has the most advanced video capability of all Pentax cameras. Supposedly complete manual control of shutter and aperture. Full HD 1080p at 30/25/24 fps and 720p at 50/50/30/25/24 fps. Price listed at $750 for the body.

Now, there’s not really anything earth shattering about those specs. The Panasonic GH2 is similar. But this is a major step forward for Pentax. If the sensor, very similar to the one in the K5, has the same handling of dynamic range and image quality, it could produce some very nice images.

The K-01 doesn’t have a viewfinder, which is a drawback for a lot of traditional SLR shooters, but for video it’s not really a problem.

It looks likes a great body at a great price, especially if you have an investment in K Mount lenses. For me, even if I had kept my K Mounts I would not be able to afford to make the switch. So, I’m still where I need to be; ready to purchase amid-level HDSLR. I’m waiting a little while for any more announcements to come along.

The Quest: Choosing Canon 60D or Panasonic GH2

I am on a quest. I recently sold off my Pentax gear. After years of using a great kit, I dumped it to buy a mid level DSLR capable of shooting full manual video. I am convinced that Pentax will never consider HDSLR video anything more than a hobby. But what to buy as a replacement? I’m undecided. I’m pretty much just thinking out loud here.

I am looking at a $1000 or less. I seem to have settled on either the Canon 60D or the Panasonic GH2. I am looking for full manual video control and good still image capture. of course, any interchangeable lens camera is going to look better than my Point & Shoot. I’m also not too concerned about workflow, because both have to have their native files converted for work in Final Cut.

So I’ve been reading up on the two. This review from EOSHD gives the contest firmly to the GH2. There are tons of “hacks” you can do on the GH2 to get all sorts of video effects and colors. The GH2 is generally thought of as an amazing video camera. Here is a video from EOSHD comparing it against the $10,000 Red Scarlett. The under $800 body doesn’t fair too badly.

I am still leaning toward Canon because Canon makes a lot better lenses than the 4/3s stuff. And adapters don’t translate the auto functions. So you lose all the auto focus advantage on the GH2, and the GH2s smaller sensor means longer DOF, which means harder to control DOF in our shooting situations. And I don’t think I’m going to be hacking my camera. If I had to pick right now, I’d get a Canon 60D with the 50mm f1.8 “nifty fifty” lens to start.

But the GH2 is so flexible with video. Both stock and with all of the hacks out there. And you can use almost any lens you want. The smaller mirrorless body allows you to adapt a lot of different kinds of lenses. (Pentax K, M42, Canon EF and FD, Nikon, and more.) Canon can convert some lenses too. At work we have an M42 to EOS adapter.

Part of me just wants to be different. I shot Pentax for a long time. I began to enjoy the fact that I was using a system that was not like the rest of the Canikon people. I really liked shooting something with a lens that cost under $50 that made people say, wow that’s a nice picture. But I am not sure I have the time or motivation to test the hacks and get drawn into the techno world of the GH2 community. I see a lot of test videos, and people geeking out about what you can do, more than great video projects that happen to use a GH2. Maybe the same can be said for the Canon bodies.

Being different is fun. But, if I had found a cheap Nikon way back when I got my first DSLR, I would have gotten that system. I was just looking for a DSLR under $300, and I found a Pentax *ist DS with kit lens for $295 (a great deal back then). The rest was just bonus. I’d still recommend Pentax to anyone looking to shoot on a budget that is willing to use manual controls. I never spent more than $230 on any lens in my Pentax kit. Not because all Pentax lenses are that cheap, but because you can find cheaper alternatives to the high dollar ones if you are willing to shoot manual.

So, back to this dilemma. Not sure what is on the horizon for either manufacturer. I am probably waiting a couple of months before I take the plunge, and maybe something will come out before then. Meanwhile I’m reading reviews and watching video. Weighing the options.

[Edit: I made my decision]

Changing Loyalty: Leaving Pentax for… Canon? Panasonic?

I put my entire Pentax DSLR system up for sale tonight.

I know to most people that’s not that big of a deal. And, on many levels for me, it isn’t that big either. I didn’t choose Pentax for any good reason, but I did really like the system. No other system allows you to shoot stills on a budget like Pentax. If you like manual focus, you can get amazing lenses for cheap. Using lenses from 20+ years ago was a real perk of the Pentax world. I spent the last few years assembling a collection of modern and antique lenses to cover everything from 16mm to 300mm.

So, why jump ship?

Because Pentax is never going to take video seriously. Because of my plans and dreams with the show, I eventually need a DSLR that can do full manual, full HD video. I had hoped that Pentax would come along with a great body that could use all my old lenses and give me great stills and video. But every time I turned around a new body had limited video capability. But I kept hoping.

Last week at CES, Pentax, who was recently bought by Ricoh, did not announce or release anything, even though they had a booth. And John Carlson,Senior Manager of Sales and Marketing at Pentax USA, gave an interview where he covered some of the companies views on video in DSLR:

DE: What can you say about features on video in your–either SLR or system camera lines–you were really the first to offer manual aperture control during video capture, but our sense is that since then, you’ve lagged a little bit on features. Things that are becoming common elsewhere, such as full-time auto-focus or manual audio level control. What would you like to see come to product line in terms of video?

JC: I think there’s a couple of things I’ve seen with our competitors that are very compelling, like auto-focus during video, and more manual controls of exposure during the video. However, I think what’s important is to realize that while that stuff is… would be nice to have, it’s not absolutely necessary. We’ve worked with some producers that have done some great videos that we have on our YouTube channel, that definitely show even in pretty complicated lighting situations, you can effectively use a camera like the K-5 to get good quality video. Using things that you may not think of, like the exposure lock button that will essentially let you set the exposure, things like that. Just watching some of these professional cinematographers using the different lenses to their capabilities, and realizing these guys don’t use auto-focus anyway. The true advanced cinematographers out there are doing it all manual, and planning your shot, and really thinking it out. I think you consider those things, and our cameras are definitely very capable.

DE: What’s your sense for how customers are using the video capabilities of the system cameras? This is one thing I have a question about, is how many of them are still photographers that are becoming video enthusiasts, or how many are like, you know, I’m a still photographer and I’d like to take an occasional video snapshot?

JC: You definitely see a lot of the traditional photographers almost questioning why you need video, but then you have the people that have kind of expanded their repertoire of what they can do with a camera, by realizing that you add a little movement to an image and it can add a lot. Definitely in the nature photography, you know… A still image of a snowstorm is okay, but you get a moving image of a snowstorm, a video, and it adds something totally different to it.

I had hoped that with patience Pentax would see the benefit of the large market of video professionals who use DSLRs. It seems apparent that no matter what new body Pentax releases, full manual video control is just not going to be a part of it. Video is seen as a nice way to capture video snapshots. Professionals who want to use Pentax have to trick the body, and Pentax USA is OK with that just being the way it is. That means if I wish to own a more capable DSLR for video I have to look elsewhere. And that is disappointing.

So, I’m going to leave Pentax. I have not decided if I will end up with Canon (likely) or maybe a Panasonic GH2. I don’t know for sure yet. The GH2 can use an adapter to handle all sorts of lenses, from Pentax to Canon. I have a lot of friends who shoot Canon.

I’m leaving a close-knit, if somewhat snarky, community. Because Pentax isn’t as popular as other DSLR systems, there are not that many “Pentaxians.” I’m also leaving the cheap lenses that made Pentax so appealing to a budget DSLR user. Modern, good glass is not cheap.

I am going to gain ability and stability. Which ever body I end up with will have full HD video control. And be from a company that supports the future of that in DSLRs.

Now to figure out which is the best for me.