Tag Archives: Brady Betzel

Review: Red Giant Trapcode Suite 14

By Brady Betzel

Every year we get multiple updates to Red Giant’s Adobe After Effects plug-in behemoth, Trapcode Suite. The 14th update to the Trapcode suite is small but powerful and brings significant updates to Version 3 of Trapcode as well as Form (Trapcode Form 3 is a particle system generator much like Particular, but instead of the particles living and dying they stay alive forever as grids, 3D objects and other organic shapes). If you have the Trapcode Suite from a previous purchase the update will cost $199, and if you are new the suite costs $999, or $499 with an academic discount.

Particular 3 UI

There are three updates to the Suite that warrant the $199 upgrade fee: Trapcode 3, Form 3 and Tao 1.2 update. However, you still get the rest of the products with the Trapcode Suite 14: Mir 2.1, Shine 2.0, Lux 1.4, 3D Stroke 2.6, Echospace 1.1, Starglow 1.7, Sound Keys 1.1 and Horizon 1.1

First up is the Tao 1.2 update. Trapcode Tao allows you to create 3D geometric patterns along a path in After Effects. If you do a quick YouTube search of Tao you will find some amazing examples of what it can do. In the Tao 1.2 update Red Giant has added a Depth-of-Field tool to create realistic bokeh effects on your Tao objects. It’s a simple but insanely powerful update that really gives your Tao creations a sense of realism and beauty. To enable the new Depth-of-Field, wander over to the Rendering twirl-down menu under Tao and either select “off” or “Camera Settings.” It’s pretty simple. From there it is up to your After Effects camera skills and Tao artistry.

Trapcode Particular 3
Trapcode Particular is one of Red Giant’s flagship plugins and it’s easy to see why. Particular allows you to create complex particle animations within After Effects. From fire to smoke to star trails, it can pretty much do whatever your mind can come up with, and Version 3 has some powerful updates, including the overhauled Trapcode Particular Designer.

The updated designer window is very reminiscent of the Magic Bullet Designer window, easy and natural to use. Here you design your particle system, including the look, speed and overall lifespan of your system. While you can also adjust all of these parameters in the Effects Window dialog, the Designer gives an immediate visual representation of your particle systems that you can drag around and see how it interacts with movement. In addition you can see any presets that you want to use or create.

Particular 3

In Particular 3, you can now use OBJ objects as emitters. An OBJ is essentially a 3D object. You can use the OBJ’s faces, vertices, edges, and the volume inside the object to create your particle system.

The largest and most important update to the entire Trapcode Suite 14 is found within Particular 3, and it is the ability to add up to eight particle systems per instance of Particular. What does that mean? Well, your particle systems will now interact in a way that you can add details such as dust or a bright core that can carry over properties from other particle systems in the same same instance, adding the ability to create way more intricate systems than before.

Personally, the newly updated Designer is what allows me to dial in these details easily without trying to twirl down tons of menus in the Effect Editor window. A specific use of this is that you want to duplicate your system and inherit the properties, but change the blend mode and/or colors, simply you click the drop down arrow under system and click “duplicate.” Another great update within the multiple particle system update is the ability to create and load “multi-system” presets quickly and easily.

Now, with all of these particle systems mashed together you probably are wondering, “How in the world will my system be able to handle all of these when it’s hard to even playback a system in the older Trapcode Suite?” Well, lucky for us Trapcode Particular 3 is now OpenGL — GPU-accelerated and allowing for sometimes 4x speed increases. To access these options in the Designer window, click the cogwheel on the lower edge of the window towards the middle. You will find the option to render using the CPU or the GPU. There are some limitations to the GPU acceleration. For instance, when using mixed blend modes you might not be able to use certain GPU acceleration types — it will not reflect the proper blend mode that you selected. Another limitation can be with Sprites that are QuickTime movies; you may have to use the CPU mode.

Last but not least, Particular 3’s AUX system (a particle system within the main particle system) has been re-designed. You can now choose custom Sprites as well as keyframe many parameters that could not be keyframed before.

Form 3 UI

Trapcode Form 3
For clarification, Trapcode Particular can create particle emitters that emit particles that have a life, so basically they are born and they die. Trapcode Form is a particle system that does not have a life — it is not born and it does not die. Some practical examples can be a ribbon like background or a starfield. These particle systems can be made from 3D models and even be dynamically driven by an audio track. And much like Particular’s updated Designer, Form 3 has an updated designer that will help you build you particle array quickly and easily. Once done inside the Designer you can hop out and adjust parameters in the Effects Panel. If you want to use pre-built objects or images as your particles you can load those as Sprites or Textured Polygons and animate their movement.

Another really handy update in Trapcode Form 3 is the addition of the Graphing System. This allows you to animate controls like color, size, opacity and dispersion over time.

Just like Particular, Form reacts to After Effect’s cameras and lights, completely immersing them into any scene that you’ve built. For someone like me, who loves After Effects and the beauty of creations from Form and Particular but who doesn’t necessarily have the time to create from scratch, there is a library of over 70 pre-built elements. Finally, Form has added a new rendering option called Shadowlet rendering which adds light falloff to your particle grid or array.

Form 3

Summing Up
In the end, the Trapcode Suite 14 has significantly updated Trapcode Particular 3 with multiple particle systems, Trapcode Form 3 with a beautiful new Designer, and Trapcode Tao with Depth-of-Field, all for an upgrade price of $199. Some Trapcode Particular users have been asking for the ability to build and manipulate multiple particle systems together, and Red Giant has answered their wishes.

If you’ve never used the Trapcode Suite you should also check out the rest of the mega-bundle which includes apps like Shine, 3D Stroke, Starglow, MIr, Lux, Sound Keys, Horizon and Echospace here. And if you want to get more in-depth rundowns of each of these programs check out Harry Frank’s (@graymachine) and Chad Perkin’s tutorials on the Red Giant News website. Then immediately follow @trapcode_lab and @RedGiantNews on Twitter.

If you want to find out more about the other tools in the Trapcode Suite check out my previous two-part review of Suite 13 here on postPerspective: http://postperspective.com/review-red-giants-trapcode-suite-13-part-1 and http://postperspective.com/review-red-giant-trapcode-suite-13-part-2.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Boxx’s Apexx 4 7404 workstation

By Brady Betzel

The professional workstation market has been blown open recently with companies like HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others building systems containing i3/i5/i7/i9 and Xeon processors, and  AMD’s recent re-inauguration into the professional workstation market with their Ryzen line of processors.

There are more options than ever, and that’s a great thing for working pros, but for this review, I’m going to take a look at Boxx Technologies Apexx 4 7404, which the company sent me to run through its paces over a few months, and it blew me away.

The tech specs of the Apexx 4 7404 are:
– Processor: Intel i7-6950X CPU (10 cores/20 threads)
– One core is overclocked to 4.3GHz while the remaining nine cores can run at 4.1GHz
– Memory: 64GB DDR4 2400MHz
– GPUs: Nvidia Quadro P5000 (2560 CUDA cores, 16GB GDDR5X)
– Storage drive: NVMe Samsung SSD 960 (960GB)
– Operating system drive: NVMe Intel SSDPEDMW400 (375GB)
– Motherboard: ASUS X99-E WS/USB3.1

On the front of the workstation, you get two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, audio out/mic in, and on the rear of the 7404 there are eight USB 3.0, two USB 3.1, two Gigabit Ethernet, audio out/mic in, line in, one S/PDIF out and two eSATA. Depending on the video card(s) you choose, you will have some more fun options.

This system came with a DVD-RW drive, which is a little funny these days but I suppose still necessary for some people. If you need more parts or drives there is plenty of room for all that you could ever want, both inside and out. While these are just a few of the specs, they really are the most important, in my opinion. If you purchase from Boxx all of these can be customized. Check out all of the different Boxx Apexx 4 flavors here.

Specs
Right off the bat you will notice the Intel i7-6950X CPU, which is a monster of a processor and retails for around $1,500, just by itself. With its hefty price tag, this Intel i7 lends itself to niche use cases like multimedia processing. Luckily for me (and you), that is exactly what I do. One of the key differences between a system like the Boxx workstation and ones from companies like HP is that Boxx takes advantage of the X or K series Intel processors and overclocks them, getting the most from your processors all while still being backed by Boxx’s three-year warranty. The 7404 has one core overclocked to 4.3GHz which can sometimes provide a speed increase for apps that don’t use multiple cores. While this isn’t a lot of cases it doesn’t hurt to have that extra boost.

The Apexx 4 case is slender (at 6.85-inches wide) and quiet. Boxx embraces liquid cooling systems to keep your enterprise-class components made by companies like Samsung, Intel, etc. running smoothly. Boxx systems are built and fabricated in Texas from aircraft grade aluminum parts and steel strengthening components.

When building your own system you might pick a case because the price is right or it is all that is available for your components (or that is what pcpartpicker.com tells you that is what fits). This can mean giving up build quality and potentially bad airflow. Boxx knows this and has gone beyond just purchasing other companies cases — they forge their own workstation case masterpieces.

Boxx’s support is based in Austin – no outsourcing — and their staff knows the apps we use such as Autodesk, Adobe and others.

Through Its Paces
I tested the Apexx 4 7404 using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder since they are really the Swiss Army knives of the multimedia content creation world. I edited together a 10-minute UHD (3840×2160) sequence using an XAVC MP4 I shot using a Sony a6300. I did a little color correction with the Lumetri Color tools, scaled the image up to 110% and exported the file through Media Encoder. I exported it as a 10-bit DNxHQX, UHD, QuickTime MOV.

It took seven minutes and 40 seconds to export to the OS drive (Intel) and about six minutes and 50 seconds to go to the internal storage drive (Samsung). Once I hit export I finally got the engines to rev up inside of the Boxx, the GPU fans seemed to kick on a little; they weren’t loud but you could hear a light breeze start up. On my way out of Premiere I exported an XML to give me a headstart in Resolve for my next test.

My next test was to import my Premiere XML into Blackmagic’s Resolve 14 Studio and export with essentially the same edits, reproduce the color correction, and apply the same scaling. It took a few minutes to get Resolve 14 up and running, but after doing a few uninstalls, installing Resolve 12.5.6 and updating my Nvidia drivers, Resolve 14 was up and running. While this isn’t a Boxx problem, I did encounter this during my testing so I figured someone might run into the same issue, so I wanted to mention it.

I then imported my XML, applied a little color correction, and double checked that my 110% scaling came over in the XML (which it did), and exported using the same DNxHQX settings that I used in Premiere. Exporting from Resolve 14 to the OS drive took about six minutes and 15 seconds, running at about 41 frames per second. When exporting to the internal storage drive it took about six minutes and 11 seconds, running between 40-42 frames per second. For those keeping track of testing details, I did not cache any of the QuickTimes and turned Performance Mode off for these tests (in case Blackmagic had any sneaky things going on in that setting).

After this, I went a little further and exported the same sequence with some Spatial Noise Reduction set across the entire 10-minute timeline using these settings: Mode: Better; Radius: Medium; Spatial Threshold: 15 on both Luma and Chroma; and Blend: 0. It ran at about nine frames per second and took about 25 minutes and 25 seconds to export.

Testing
Finally, I ran a few tests to get some geeky nerd specs that you can compare to other users’ experiences to see where this Boxx Apexx 4 7404 stands. Up first was the AJA System Test, which tests read and write speeds to designated disks. In addition, you can specify different codecs and file sizes to base this test off of. I told the AJA System Test to run its test using the 10-bit Avid DNxHQX codec, 16GB file size and UHD frame size (3860×2140). I ran it a few times, but the average was around 2100/2680 MB/sec write and read to the OS drive and 1000/1890 MB/sec write and read to the storage drive.

To get a sense of how this system would hold up to a 3D modeling test, I ran the classic Cinebench R15 app. OpenGL was 215.34 frames per second with 99.6% ref. match, CPU scored 2121cb and CPU (single core) cored 181cb with MP Ratio of 11.73x. What the test really showed me when I Googled Cinebench scores to compare mine to was that the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 was in the top of the heap for all categories. Specifically, within the top 20 for overall render speed being beaten only by systems with more cores and placed in the top 15 for single core speed — the OpenGL fps is pretty incredible at over 215fps.

Summing Up
In the end, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 custom-built workstation is an incredible powerhouse for any multimedia workflow. From rendering to exporting to transcoding, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 with dual Nvidia Quadro P5000s will chew through anything you throw at it.

But with this power comes a big price: the 7404 series starts at $7,246! The price of the one I tested lands much higher north though, more like just under $14,000 — those pesky Quadros bump the price up quite a bit. But if rendering, color correcting, editing and/or transcoding is your business, Boxx will make sure you are up and running and chewing through every gigabyte of video and 3D modeling you can run through it.

If you have any problems and are not up and running, their support will get you going as fast as possible. If you need parts replaced they will get that to you fast. Boxx’s three-year warranty, which is included with your purchase, includes getting next day on-site repair for the first year but this is a paid upgrade if you want it to continue for years two and three of your warranty. But don’t worry. If you don’t upgrade your warranty you still have two years of great support.

In my opinion, you should really plan for the extended on-site repair upgrade for all three years of your warranty — you will save time, which will make you more money. If you can afford a custom-built Boxx system, you will get a powerhouse workstation that makes working in apps like Premiere and Resolve 14 snappy and fluid.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: OWC’s USB-C dock

By Brady Betzel

Whether you have a MacBook Pro with only one USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (a.k.a. USB-C) or a desktop PC and aren’t fond of reaching around the back of your tower to plug in peripherals, you’ll need a dock. At first you might think a dock isn’t necessary, but it is. With the popularity of the USB-C connection you can use one single cable to plug in your dock and connect with many different devices, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD cards and multiple other USB connected devices.

OWC has a reputation for having high-quality, Mac-focused products like external RAID storage solutions. OWC branded SSD drives, memory upgrades and even refurbished Mac OS-based systems. One of the company’s latest products is the USB-C dock that is compatible with both Mac OS- and Windows-based computer systems. The OWC USB-C dock comes in two versions: Mini DisplayPort and HDMI. Otherwise, the rest of the ports are identical.

In the front of the dock is an SD card reader, 3.5 headphone/microphone combo port and high-powered USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB port. On the back are three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (one of those is another high-powered charging port), one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, Gigabit Ethernet, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 connection for your system, HDMI or MiniDP port, and the DC power connection. The docks come in four different colors that match Apple’s MacBook Pros, including space gray, silver, gold and rose gold. The Mini DisplayPort version costs $148.75, and the HDMI version costs anywhere from $127.99 to $148.75.

What I really love about the USB-C dock from OWC, aside from the abundance of ports, is the addition of high-powered charging ports. I have a Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone, which can charge at a high speed with ports like these, so having them on the dock is extra handy. Besides the S8+, other electronics like the GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition can benefit from these ports.

Where the USB-C dock will really shine is in an environment where you don’t want to carry around all your peripherals and you use a newer MacBook Pro that features USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C connections. Keep in mind that the dock will supply up to 60W of power for your computer in addition to the 20W for other peripherals, so if your computer needs more than 60W to charge it may charge slowly or not at all.

For us desktop users, the USB-C dock expands our connections by adding multiple USB ports, an HDMI connection, and even add a Gigabit network adapter all at close range instead of having to reach around the back of your workstation.

The HDMI port supports connection via HDMI 1.4b-enabled displays or televisions: and a high-speed HDMI cable is required for display resolutions of 1080p or higher. Most HDMI cables these days are high-speed, you can even find the AmazonBasics high-speed HDMI cables for $7.99.

As mentioned earlier, the OWC USB-C dock is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS systems, but a driver is required if using the Gigabit Ethernet port on Mac OS X system 10.10 and 10.11. You can find that driver here.

In a Windows-based environment you will not have to update the Ethernet driver, but in both Mac OS and Windows environments if you have the HDMI version, you will need to install the following firmware update.

Summing Up
Out of selfishness, I wish there was one more USB port on the back of the USB-C dock to host my four Tangent Element color correction panels, each of which has its own USB connections. Instead, I have one poking out of the front. In addition, it would be nice to have a Thunderbolt 1/2 port on the dock for my legacy Thunderbolt-connected RAIDs; instead, I will have to buy an additional adapter. Other than those two suggestions, the dock is awesome and works great. It measures just over an inch tall, 3.5 inches wide, and just under 8 inches long. It weighs .9 lbs and comes with a power supply that is actually heavier than the dock, and what I think is a way-too-short Type-C cable measuring at about 20 inches. Obviously, for those using the dock with a laptop this is sufficient, but for those using this dock with a tower something triple that length is needed.

The USB-C dock comes with a two-year limited warranty which in simple terms means that if anything goes wrong with the product because of bad manufacturing they will fix or replace it. They will not cover your data or shipping, so keep that in mind.

The dock’s manual features tips, like the Type-C USB 3.1 port between the traditional USB ports and the Ethernet port is for data and power only; it will not support video signals or video adapters. In addition, this dock is not compatible with Apple’s USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter or USB-C VGA multiport adapter. There are plenty of other usage notes you will want to read, so make sure that you check the manual out before you use the dock.

If you not only want a dock. but also want to update an older MacBook Pro, OWC has some great SSD and memory bundles.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Røde Mic’s Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote

By Brady Betzel

There are a ton of microphone types out there, and when it comes to adding an external mic to a camera you need to know what kind of mic works best in different situations. For interviews, you most likely want a microphone that picks up the audio that is placed directly in front of the microphone. If you are recording a music performance or ambience, you may want something that records in multiple directions without concentrating in any one specific location. I wanted to talk about Røde Microphones, which makes many of the on camera mics you see used YouTube content creators, Podcasters and filmmakers.

The way a microphone picks up audio is typically described as a polar pattern. The most common polar patterns in microphones are Cardioid, Super Cardioid and Omnidirectional. A Cardioid microphone will record mostly audio directly in front of it; a Super Cardioid will record mostly audio in the front, but also some directly in the rear; and an Omnidirectional will pick up audio equally from all directions. To further complicate the matter, if you record in stereo you can have a pickup pattern like X-Y Cardioid.

So after all that description of microphone polar patterns (you are welcome), here I’m going to focus on the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote, which has an X-Y Cardioid polar pattern. You may be familiar with Rode’s famous VideoMic Pro, which is a great Super Cardioid, dual-mono microphone. The VideoMic Pro would be a great mic for recording a discussion outdoors, focusing on the conversation, but also picking up a little of the ambience. The Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote uses its X-Y Cardioid to record a stereo scene without a focus on a smaller specific area. In plain language, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is great for recording ambience or performances. It is not the mic you want to use for an interview; that would be a job for the VideoMic Pro or better yet a directional mic like the Rode NTG series, which will give an intense focus on the area it is pointed at.

Capturing Ambience Outdoors
So why would someone want the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote? If you record scenes outdoors, like at a baseball or soccer game, where you want to generally focus your audio on an area but also catch the surrounding ambience of the crowd… or at an outdoor group performance. Something I see missing a lot in videography is ambience in timelapses or b-roll, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is exactly the on-camera mic you need to grab some great stereo ambience and add life to any b-roll shot, instantly. If you record traffic b-roll with cars crossing the camera from left to right or right to left, the stereo recording will convey traffic movement in a much more natural way engaging the viewer more than a mono recording of traffic that will not convey movement.

For all of the technical nerds out there, the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote features a frequency range of 40Hz ~ 20,000Hz but can be limited with the built-in High Pass Filter that clips anything below 75Hz, matched pair ½” condenser capsules in X-Y stereo configuration, three position level control -10dB, 0 and +20dB. It uses a single 9V battery, measures 4.5” x 3.1” x 5.3”. It connects using a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack and weighs only .26 lbs.

The Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is an updated version from the original Stereo VideoMic Pro, which includes the nearly indestructible Rycote Lyre shock mount, new condenser capsule setup, new Kevlar reinforced braided cable and improved foam windscreen. Best of all it comes with a 10-year warranty (one-year warranty plus nine additional years when you register your microphone). If you read any online comments about Røde microphones, you will notice one common theme: great customer service. More often than not you will see someone talk about how they needed an addition piece or how their warranty ran out but Rode still helped them out free of charge.

Putting it to the Test
To test the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro I tried a few different scenarios including some outdoor scenes where I showcased stereo and mono recording. You can check out my YouTube video. I recorded everything on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, which is notorious for having low audio recording levels. Luckily, the Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote has the three position level control and I was able to boost the recording by +20dB with very little noise. Otherwise my levels would have to be boosted when editing and that would definitely introduce more noise than I would have liked. While I did pick up a little bit of handling noise when recording, the Rycote Lyre shock-mount limited the little movements that other mics without this shock mount would have picked up. In terms of noise recorded on the mic, you can hear a little bit but nothing you couldn’t easily take out if it bothered you.

In the end the, Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro is a high-level external microphone that will add production value to any camera recording. It is priced between $279 and $300, although I found differing prices. Visit here to find a retailer near you, and one that will make sure you can take advantage of the tremendous warranty and customer service they offer. I also noticed that many retailers are including the Dead Kitten wind muff for free with purchase for when you are recording in a windy area.

When you listen to the difference between recording stereo with the Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote vs. recording mono on a mic like the Røde VideoMic Go, you can really feel your b-roll opening up. It adds a great level of depth to what would ordinarily be straight up the middle audio with no sense of left or right panning.

The Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote has an incredible recording and product build quality that will add depth to any footage you film. If you record outdoor b-roll, performances, or any other non-interview type footage. The Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro Rycote is going to be a vital piece of equipment you need to have in your bag.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Fangs Film Gear’s Wolf Packs and Panther lens bags

By Brady Betzel

Summertime is the perfect time to make sure you have the right gear bags to throw your cameras, memory cards and lenses in. Fangs Film Gear is a brand from the company Release the Hounds Studios. They also have other products, like Ground Control color correction LUTs, Wave Brigade royalty-free sound effects and ambience, and a podcast called Video Dogpound.

I found out about them when I was watching some music videos for inspiration and slowly fell down a rabbit hole that led me to a great organization called Heart Support. It’s basically a group that lends a helping hand to people having a hard time. I found co-owner Casey Faris’ YouTube page, where he has some awesome and easily digestible video editing and color correction tutorials — mainly on Blackmagic Design Resolve. You can find his co-owner Dan Bernard’s YouTube page here. They were promoting some of their LUTs from Ground Control and also some gear bags, which I’m now reviewing.

Fangs Film Gear Panther Lens Bags
These are black weather-resistant drawstring lens bags lined with lens-quality micro fiber cloth. They come in three sizes: small for $19.99, medium for $22.99 and large for $24.99. You can also buy one of each for $64.99. Once you touch them you will immediately feel the durability on the outside but the softness a lens demands on the inside. When using these bags you will always have a great lens cloth nearby.

Not only have I been toting around my lenses in these bags, but they’ve made great GoPro carrying bags since the GoPro’s lens is constantly exposed. The small bag works with a compact DSLR lens and is perfect for something like the Nifty Fifty Canon 50mm lens; it’s about the size of an iPhone 7 Plus or my Samsung Galaxy S8 +. Even the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera fits well — it measures 5×7 inches when lying flat. The medium bag measures 6×8 inches and is good for multiple GoPros or a medium-sized lens like my micro four-thirds Lumix 14-140. The large measures 6.5×9.25 inches and is obviously great for a longer lens, but in a rush I keep my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with 14-140 lens attached sometimes. All the bags are weather resistant, meaning you can splash some water on them and it won’t get through. However, as they are drawstring so water can still get in through the top.

If you are looking for a GoPro-specific gear bag they also carry something called The Viper, a GoPro-focused sling bag. And if you are a DJI Mavic owner, they sell a two-pack of Panther bags that will fit the remote and Mavic — it looks essentially like the small and large Panther bags.

Fangs Film Gear Tactical Production Organizers
These are called Wolf Packs but I like to call them sweet dad bags. Not only do they have a practical production purpose, but they are great for dads who have to carry baby stuff around but want a little more stylish look.

So first the production purpose of the Wolf Packs. It’s really genius and simple: one side is green for your charged batteries or unused memory cards, and the red side is for depleted batteries and used memory cards. No more worrying about which cards have been used, or having to try and label a bunch of MicroSD cards with some gaffers tape. Now for the dad use of the Wolf Packs — green for the clean diapers and red for the used diapers! If you’ve ever used cloth diapers you may be a little more familiar with this technique.

The Wolf Packs are ultra durable and haven’t shed a stitch since I’ve used them in production scenarios, and even Disneyland dad scenarios. The zippers are extremely sturdy, but what impressed me the most were the included carabiner and carabiner grommet on the Wolf Packs themselves. The grommet is very high quality and won’t rip. The carabiner itself isn’t of rock climbing grade but will do for almost any situation you will need it for. The clip makes these bags easy to attach anywhere but specifically my backpack.

Inside the Wolf Pack is a durable fabric that isn’t the same as the Panther Lens bags, so do not clean your lenses with these! The pockets are made to stand up to the abuses of throwing batteries in and out all day long. I would love to see one of these with the microfiber lining like the Panther bags, but I also see the benefit of using both of them separate. The Wolf Packs break down like this: the small is 6.5×5.5 inches for $29.99, the medium is 8.25×7 inches for $34.99 and the large is 9×9 inches for $39.99. You can also purchase all three for $99.99.

Summing Up
I’ve definitely put these bags through the wringer over an extended period of time to make sure they will hold up. I am particularly concerned about things like zippers, stitching and cinches, so just a month or so of testing won’t give you a great sample. So over multiple months I’ve put the Panther Lens Bags and Wolf Packs through the wringer, hiking in the Simi Valley mountains and running into rattle snakes with GoPros, batteries, memory cards, lenses, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras and much more.

Even lightly dropping some of the bags with GoPros and BMPCC’s in them into the water and found no damage. I’ve really come to love the lens bags, especially when I need a quick lens cleaning and I know that I always have that with me. The Wolf Packs are something I constantly keep with me, great for shoots where I need to change out batteries and memory cards but also great for kid snacks, chapstick and sunscreen. Without hesitation I would order these again; the fabric and stitching is top notch. I had my wife, who really likes to sew and make clothing, take a look at them and she was really impressed with the Wolf Packs… so much so there is now one missing.

Check them out at their website www.fangsfilmgear.com, Twitter @FangsFilmGear and their main company site. Finally, if you are interested in some positivity you should check out www.heartsupport.com.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Sony’s a6300 E-mount camera

By Brady Betzel

It’s fair to say that the still and motion camera market isn’t boring. Canon and Nikon have been the huge players in the market, more so a few years ago when Canon introduced the landscape-changing 7D and full-frame 5D cameras. The 5D was the magic camera for the filmmaking community. Over the years, other companies have been breaking the 5D mold with cameras like Blackmagic with its Pocket Cinema Camera, but once the filmmaking community started lusting for higher frame rates that filmed at higher than 1920×1080 resolution, along with a Log or Log-like color space, the field began to really open up.

It seems that’s when Sony started taking the prosumer camera market seriously and doubled down on the Sony a6000 mirrorless E-mount camera, which eventually led to the 4K (technically UHD) recording-capable a6300 and a6500.

Once people started seeing the images and video that the APS-C-based a6300 produced, mixed with the awesome low-light capabilities and wide dynamic range using picture profiles like SLog2/3 — Sony had a bonafide hit on their hands. And if you still wanted more sensor size than the a6300 can provide with its crop sensor, you have the full-frame A7SII and A7RII (and, hopefully, soon the A7R/S III).

In this review, I am going to cover the Sony a6300 and explain why it’s a good value for anyone looking to make some great content, or even just have top-notch 4K home videos. The image fidelity that comes from the Sony a6300 is truly incredible. It’s a little hard to quantify for me, but I think that the Sony a6300 has a look from the sensor that is superbly unique to a handheld camera. The Sony a6300 delivers a top-notch product for around $949.99 (not including lenses) or $1049.99, which includes a 16-50mm lens… but more on pricing later.

Technically, the Sony a6300 is a handheld camera camera with an interchangeable E-mount lens system. Since this is an APS-C crop sensor camera, it is not full frame. The sensor will record images at 24.2 megapixels and up to UHD (3840×2160) resolution when recording video, and since I work in video I am focusing on that aspect of the a6300. It records in the Sony created xvYCC color space — essentially an extended gamut color space that allows for more saturation but is compatible with existing YCC color space. Short answer: more saturation. It accepts Sony Memory Stick Duo or SD memory cards to record on, but do some research on your memory card as not all will allow for UHD recording at the full 100Mb/s. In movie mode you have an ISO range of 100-25600, which really shines in the high ISO range when filming in low light.

In terms of video recording formats, the Sony a6300 stays in the family with its XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4 all of which are 8-bit out of the camera. Keep in mind that if you edit a lot of footage in XAVC- or AVCHD-based codecs, your computer will need to be on the higher end and/or you will want to create proxy media to edit before finishing and color correcting. The XAVC and AVCHD codecs allow for pretty good quality video to be recorded, but this really stresses editing systems because of the way interframe codecs work. If you notice your system can’t play down your clips, it might be time to think about transcoding them to a more edit-friendly codec like ProRes, Cineform or DNxHR.

When recording in XAVC S 4K/UHD (3840×2160) you can shoot in multiple framerates and bitrates — 24p @ 100/60Mbps; 30p @ 100/60Mbps; XAVC S HD (1920×1080) 60p/30p/24p @ 50Mbps and 120p @ 100/50Mbps as well as many other options — but for this review those are the ones that really matter. The real beauty in the Sony a6300 is the ability to shoot in Log color space, which in very basic terms is a video with a grayish-flat color that allows for advanced color correction in post production because there is more information to pull out of the shadows and highlights aka dynamic range.

S-Log 2 split screen.

To enable the Log color spaces, find the Picture Profile menu under menu five and select PP7, PP8 or PP9. This is where you will find the Gamma menu and S-Log 2- or 3-enabled by default. There are more options but the next one that concerns a lot of people is the Color Mode, which can be changed to S-Gamut, S-Gamut3.Cine, S-Gamut3 and more. These are a little tricky, and my best piece of advice is to try each combination in different lighting environments like sunset, a bright blue sky with gradations and low light to see which works best for each situation. I noticed I got a good amount of noise in S-Log3 S-Gamut3.Cine, but I really tried to push the low light in that mode. I fixed excessive shadow noise when I was color correcting by using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite Denoiser — read my review.

I noticed S-Log2 left me a little more detail in the highlights, while S-Log 3 gave a little more detail in the shadows; that may have just been my experience, but that is what I noticed. In addition, when shooting in S-Log 2/3 I noticed some macro-blocking/banding in shots that had color gradations, like a blue sky turning into white or even very bright lights — this will look like square digital artifacts or bands arcing across the gradient. I even saw a dead pixel flash when shooting some really low-light footage. The real test is to watch this footage on a huge TV or output monitor above 32-inches because you will really start to see the noise and banding that is present. I did some testing with noise removal, and with a little bit of noise removal elbow grease you can get a great picture. Overall, I am very impressed with the Log type images I was able to pull out of the a6300 and how well they held up in color correction. Typically, a camera that can pull this type of image would be at least over $5,000-6,000 or more plus lenses, so the a6300 is a steal.

After all that S-Log talk you might be asking, “What if I just want to shoot great video and not worry about Logs and Gamuts?” Well, you can set the Picture Profile to 1-6 and get a great image with little to no color correction needed. Specifically, Picture Profile 1 is really the automatic setting to use; it is described by Sony as being the “Movie Gamma,” which basically means your video will look good.

For more descriptions on the Picture Profiles of the Sony a6300, check out their help guide. You will need to test out all of the Picture Profiles though as they all have different characteristics, such as more detail in the shadows but less accurate color in the highlights. Just something to take a few hours and test out.

More Cool Stuff
The internal microphone on the a6300 is ok, but probably shouldn’t be used to use as your primary audio recording. I would suggest something like the Røde VideoMic Pro. Unfortunately without being able to monitor your audio by headphones you will definitely need to test your external microphone to check whether you need a pre-amp, or if something like the VideoMic Pro +20dB boost will be enough or too loud.

One thing that really stuck out to me was how fast the automatic focus was on the Sony a6300. I am used to using a Canon EOS Rebel t2i camera, and the Sony a6300 is lightning fast, almost instantaneous. It really impressed me. I was visiting Disneyland when I had the a6300 and was taking some stills and video around the park, I took a picture of my son, but the Sony a6300 had accidentally caught a bubble in the autofocus and very clearly took a picture of that bubble. It was accidentally incredible.

In addition to the camera, Sony let me borrow a few lenses when I tested out the a6300, including the 50mm f1.8 ($249.99), E 35mm f1.8 ($449.99) and E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 ($349.99). While the 35mm and 50mm are great , I felt that the 16-50mm zoom lens did the job for me overall. In low-light situations it definitely helped to have the f1.8 prime lenses in my bag, but during daylight, and even dusk, the zoom lens was great. However, when taking portraits or footage where I wanted a nice bokeh background, the prime lenses were what I had to use.

If I was going to buy this camera for myself I would weigh the idea of spending a little more money and grabbing a really nice lens, whether it be a prime or zoom. The only problem with that is most of the upgraded lenses are for full-frame cameras, which brings me to my next point: Would I just go all the way to a full-frame Sony A7rII or A7sII camera? In my mind, if I have enough money to get a full-frame camera I do it. The quality, in my eyes, is far superior. However, you are going to be paying an extra $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the lenses, whether you buy new or used. So a middle ground might be to buy the full-frame lenses like the G Master series for the a6300. This way when you find the right Sony body you don’t have to upgrade lenses as the full-frame lenses will work on the a6300. Keep in mind you will have a crop factor of 1.5, which means a full-frame 50mm lens will actually be a 75mm lens. That might be more confusing than helpful, but it is a constant fight for Sony a6300 owners after they see what the Sony cameras can do. Another option is to take a look at Craigslist or Ebay and see if anyone is selling a used a6300 or A7srII. I did a cursory search when writing this article and found a Sony a6300 with four lenses and extra accessories for $1,300, and another a6300 for sale with one lens for $700, so there are options for used cameras at a great price.

So what didn’t I like about the Sony a6300? There is no headphone jack to monitor your audio. That’s a big one, but one possible solution is using the micro-HDMI port. If you use an external monitoring solution, like an Atomos or a SmallHD monitor, you will be able to use their audio monitoring. Also, I just can’t get used to Sony’s menu and button setup. Maybe because I’ve been used to Canon’s menu, button and wheel setup for a while, but Sony’s setup for some reason throws me off. I feel like I have to go in to one or two extra menus before I get to the settings I want.

Summing Up
The bottom line is that the Sony a6300 is an incredible UHD-capable camera that can be purchased with a lens for around $1,000. It lacks things like proper audio monitoring but gives you great control over your color correction when filming in SLog 2 or 3, and with a little noise reduction you will have clean low-light footage in the palm of your hand.

There is a newer version of this camera in the a6500, which has the following upgrades over the a6300 — 5-axis image stabilization, touchscreen LCD (can swipe to change focus on an object or touch to set focus) and improved menu system. The a6500 costs $1,399.99 for the body only. The image stabilization is what really sells the a6500 since you can now use any lens (with adapters) that you want while still benefitting from image stabilization. Either way, the a6300 is the best bet to get a great UHD-capable camera at a great price, especially if you can find someone selling a used one with a bunch of lenses and batteries. The video that comes from the Sony line of cameras is unmistakable, and will add a level of professionalism to anyone’s videography arsenal.

You can see my Sony a6300 Slow Motion SLog 2/SLog 3 test as well as my UHD tests on YouTube.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

My top workstation accessories

By Brady Betzel

As a working video editor, I’m at my desk and on my computer all day. So when I get home I want my personal workstation to feel as powerful as possible and having the right tools to support that experience are paramount.

I’m talking workstation accessories. I’ve put together a short list based on my personal experience. Some are well known, while some are slightly under the radar. Either way, they all make my editing life easier and more productive.

They make my home-based workstation feel like a full-fledged professional edit suite.

Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
In my work as an offline editor, I started to have some wrist pain when I used a mouse in conjunction with my keyboard. That is when I decided to jump head first into using a Wacom tablet. Within two weeks, all of my pain went away and I felt that I had way more control over drawing objects and shapes. I specifically noticed more precision when working inside of apps like Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop when drawing accurate lines and shapes with bezier handles.

In addition, you can program minimal macros on the express keys on the side of the tablet. While the newest Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet costs a cool $349.95, it will pay for itself with increased efficiency and, in my experience, less wrist pain.

Genelec 8010A Studio Monitors
One workstation accessory that will blow you away is a great set of studio monitors. Genelec is known for making some great studio monitors and the 8010A are a set I wish I could get. These monitors are small —  around 8-inches tall by 4-inches deep and 4-inches wide — but they put out some serious power at 96dBs.

Don’t be fooled by their small appearance; they are a great complement to any serious video and audio power user. They connect via XLR, so you may need to get some converters if you are going straight out of your station, without runing through a mixer. These speakers are priced at $295 each; they aren’t cheap, but they are another important accessory that will further turn your bay into a professional suite.

Tangent Element & Blackmagic Resolve Color Correction Panels
If you work in color correction, or aspire to color correct, color correction panels are a must. They not only make it easier for you to work in apps like Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, but they free your mind from worrying about where certain things are and let your fingers do the talking. It is incredibly liberating to use color correction panels when doing a color grade — it feels like you have another arm you can use to work.

The entire set of Tangent Element Panels costs over $3,300, but if you are just getting started, the Tangent Element Tk (just the trackballs) can be had for a little over $1,100. What’s nice about the Tangent panels is that they work with multiple apps, including Adobe Premiere, FilmLight Baselight, etc. But if you know you are only going to be using Resolve, the Resolve Micro or Mini panels are a great deal at under $1,000 and $3,000, respectively.

Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard
This one might sound a bit odd at first, but once you do some research you will see that many professional editors use these types of pads to program macros of multiple button pushes or common tasks. Essentially, this is a macro pad that has 25 programmable keys as well as a thumb controlled joystick. It’s a really intriguing piece of hardware that might be able to take place of your mouse in conjunction with your keyboard. It is competitively priced at only $79.99 and, with a little Internet research on liftgammagain.com, you can even find forums of user’s custom mappings.

Logickeyboard Backlit Keyboard
Obviously, the keyboard is one of the most used workstation accessories. One difficulty is trying to work with one in a dark room. Well, Logickeyboard has a dimmable backlit keyboard series for apps like Resolve and Avid Media Composer.

In addition to being backlit, they also have two powered USB 2.0 ports that really come in handy. These retail for around $140, so they are a little pricey for a keyboard but, take it from me, they will really polish that edit suite.

OWC USB-C Dock
With ports on Mac-based systems being stripped away, a good USB-C dock is a great extension to have in your edit suite. OWC offers a Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI-equipped version in the colors that match your MacBook Pro, if you have one.

In addition, you get five USB 3.1-compatible ports — including two of those being a high-powered charging port and a USB type C port — a Gig-E port, front facing SD card reader, combo audio in/out port and Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI port. These retail for under $150.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

 

Review: The GoPro Karma drone

By Brady Betzel

It seems like every week there is a remarkable update to drone technology or the introduction of a completely new drone. From DJI, GoPro, Yuneec or even Parrot, there are a lot of drones to choose from.

I’ve reviewed the DJI Phantom 4 drone and it was awesome. There were a few issues I had with the Phantom 4, like wanting a higher data rate for the footage and a smaller form factor — DJI answered both of those requests with the DJI Mavic Pro and their more recent small drone Spark. So what would GoPro’s Karma drone offer that DJI could not? To be honest, I wasn’t sure GoPro could rise up to DJI’s level. But the GoPro Karma is actually pretty different from the DJI Phantom.

Last year, GoPro sent me up to Squaw Valley in Northern California for the unveiling of the GoPro Hero 5 and Karma Drone. I’ve written about the Hero 5 line of cameras on this site and I still think the Hero 5 is a top-notch camera. If you follow tech news you probably saw that GoPro had to recall the first version of the Karma Drone due to the power from the battery disconnecting mid-flight. So that wasn’t good, but GoPro found a solution by adding a latch to the battery compartment to keep it in place. So here I am with the new and improved GoPro Karma Drone.

The GoPro Karma drone can be purchased in a few different configurations: $1,099 for the entire package, including the Hero 5 Black camera, Karma grip and Karma drone; $799 for the Karma grip and Karma drone (no camera); and $599 for the Flight Kit, which includes just the drone (you have to supply the Karma grip and camera). You can buy it here. If you have a Hero 4 you can purchase that camera harness for $29.99.

Unpacking the Box
When you buy the complete Karma with Hero 5 Black kit, you get the drone itself, a slick carrying case that doubles as a backpack, a charger, a battery, all-in-one-controller (no need for a phone), Karma grip and Hero 5 Black Edition. When I opened the box I immediately charged the batteries on each component: the camera, the Karma grip, controller and the Karma drone battery. It’s a lot of things to charge so make sure you have enough outlets. The charger that comes with the kit will charge a battery as well as a USB-C connected device, like the Karma drone controller or the Hero 5 Black Edition itself.

My advice is to let everything charge overnight if you can contain yourself. If you can’t, then let everything charge for an hour or so. You should at least be able to get a few minutes of flight time. If nothing else get that Karma controller plugged in and run through the built-in Flight Simulator and Learn to Fly apps; they will at least get you comfortable with the Karma and how it operates.

You do not need the Karma drone powered on like you do with the DJI Phantom to access the flight simulator, so you can pretty much start practicing immediately. After you master the flight simulator, do some research and check your local drone laws. One day you might have to register your drone, or you might not. It’s a constantly changing landscape of drone laws right now and you don’t want to get into trouble or accidentally hurt someone, so checking out the FAA website is a good place to start your research.

After you have your entire GoPro package charged, insert the Karma drone battery completely into the drone body, insert just the stabilizer from the Karma grip into the drone body and lock it into place (you can pack the Karma battery grip for later), spin the propellers on and tighten with the supplied tool, unfold the landing gear and legs, press the power button on the drone, and press the power button on the remote — now you will be flying. One of the first things I noticed when putting the Karma Drone together was that I definitely liked the way the Phantom 4’s propellers connected to the drone more than the way the Karma’s attached.

Before leaving the ground, I got into the routine of setting my Hero 5 video settings before I launched (when I remembered). Personally, I think the video settings sweet spot on the Hero 5 Black Edition is at a resolution of 2.7K and running at a frame rate of 60fps to allow for smooth slow motion when editing (slow-motion drone footage when done right seems to always make people say “wow”). In terms of the ProTune, I set the appropriate white balance and knocked down EV compensation to -1 when the sun is out or clouds are bright. Knocking the EV down helps to retain the details in bright white colors. Think of it like built-in sunglasses (or digital ND filters). And 2.7K, 60fps seems to be a pretty happy medium in terms of quality vs. storage space on the Hero 5.

Keep in mind that the data rate of your video will stay between 50Mb/s and 60Mb/s no matter what resolution you use on the Hero 5. Logically, that means that 4K will stretch that data rate out, leaving you with a bigger image but technically less detail. Hopefully, GoPro will ramp up their data rates and check out another codec like the H.265 or maybe a new Cineform codec in their next release; everyone would really appreciate the extra image detail and color. And while I’m at it suggesting things, I wouldn’t mind seeing some 10-bit 4:2:2 recording — know that is wishful thinking.

Like most drones, the Karma batteries didn’t last all day. They were lasting between 18 to 24 minutes, depending on wind conditions. The heavier the wind gusts the more your Karma will try and compensate to stay straight, which will drain your batteries fast. Mine started to get between 13 to 14 minutes with medium wind gusts. A second battery is definitely worth it.

The Remote
Arguably my favorite part of the Karma drone, besides the actual drone, is the remote. The screen could be a little brighter outside but it looks good: it is a touchscreen, and it is very comfortable to hold. I never really liked the way the DJI Phantom remote felt, but the GoPro Karma remote feels awesome. In my opinion, the GoPro Karma drone remote is the best drone remote I’ve used. Besides controlling the settings of your GoPro camera from the remote, you can run the flight simulator and access any maps you have downloaded as well as the automatic flight settings.

You get four auto shot paths: Dronie, Cable Cam, Reveal and Orbit. Dronie starts off either close to the operator and flies up and out, or the reverse. Cable Cam has you set two points and will fly between those points. Reveal starts with the camera pointed down and slowly pans up to reveal the horizon. Orbit will circle an object you pre-determine. With all of these paths, you set the start and end points as well as speed and distance they travel. Once you tell these auto shot paths to begin you can control other parts of the drone easier, such as camera movement and orientation, as well as speed. They are awesome to play with and make great opening or closing shots for a movie.

When you are running out of battery, the Karma will automatically return to home base where you took off. This is something you need to keep in mind when flying because the GoPro Karma does not have collision avoidance, and if you simply hit return to home or it does it on its own, it could fly straight into power lines or something like a tree… and that will not go well. But when you are ready to fly back to your home base or on top of your Karma carrying case, which makes a great launch pad, you can hit “Return to You” or “Return to Launch.” If you’ve walked away and you want your Karma to come to where the remote is “Return to You” is what you want to hit. Again, this is when you need to be aware of what obstacles are in the Karma’s path.

On one of my outings I was going hiking about a half mile away from where I live in the hills of Simi Valley, California. It was a few months back when the hills were lush green from the recent rain, but it was warm. I had the Karma backpack on and was walking up a narrow path for about 15 minutes as I was chanting, “Please no snakes, please no snakes” in my head. Well, low and behold, Mr. Snake popped his head out from the side of the trail and said hi. It was probably a rattlesnake that wasn’t mad as we have tons of those in the hills around Ventura County. Nonetheless, I got out of there without any footage. If I had my wits about me I probably could have got a decent shot with the Karma Grip…nope. Let’s be real. I was out of there faster than the Flash.

I did discover that if you leave your Hero 5 in the Karma stabilizer while plugged into the drone or the Karma Grip, it will drain your Hero 5 battery. So take it out while it’s in storage. I really don’t have much to criticize in the Karma drone, but my wish list would include proximity sensors for collision avoidance, a higher data rate for the Hero line of cameras, which may come in their next release of the Fusion camera, and possibly a smaller form factor.

Summing Up
In the end, you won’t really get the idea of how fun drones are to fly until you get your hands on one. Drone filmmaking is not easy; it takes time to get beautiful shots. Think about it, there are camera people who make a good living off getting great shots. So don’t beat yourself up if it takes a few times to get the hang of just being comfortable flying a drone around while trying to keep everyone and everything safe.

However, once you get past the initial paranoia when flying a drone, you can get some unique shots that you may never have thought were possible. In my opinion, the GoPro Karma is the easiest and overall best drone to use. While it may not have all of the collision avoidance that the Phantom or Mavic have, it has an ease of use that is unrivaled.

The controller is so easy. My wife, who doesn’t really care about drones and would rather sew, was able to pick it up and fly within 20 minutes. This definitely wasn’t possible on the Phantom. In addition, being able to pull out the Karma stabilizer and attach it to the Karma grip within minutes is a game changer for someone running around the beach or hiking in the mountains.

If you are already a fan of the GoPro products, the Karma drone and grip are definite items to add to your shopping cart. GoPro even sent me the Karma Grip extension cable to play with. You can use it to stash the grip handle away from the stabilizer and then use a chest mount, or even the mount on the strap of the GoPro Seeker backpack, bringing stabilization everywhere.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Zylight’s IS3 LED lights

By Brady Betzel

I see a lot of footage from all over the world captured on all sorts of cameras and shot in good and bad lighting conditions. Besides camera types and lenses, proper lighting is consistently an area that needs the most attention.

If you troll around YouTube, you will see all sorts of lighting tutorials (some awful, but some outstanding) — some tutorials offer rundowns on what lighting you can get for your budget, from the clamp-style garage lights with LED bulbs that can be purchased at your local Lowe’s, a standard three-piece lighting kit, or even the ever-trendy Kino Flo lights. There are so many choices it’s hard to know what you should be looking at or even why you are choosing things like LED over tungsten or fluorescent.

In this review, I am going to go over the Zylight IS3/c LED light. The “c” in IS3/c stands for the Chimera softbox, which can be purchased with the light.

Recently, I have really been interested in lighting, and a few months back Zylight sent me the IS3/c to try out. Admittedly, I am not a world-famous DP or photographer with extensive experience in lighting. I know my way around a mid-level lighting setup and can get my way through a decent-looking three-light setup, so my apologies if I don’t touch on the difference between the daylight and tungsten foot candle output. Not that footcandles are not interesting subjects, but those can take a while to figure out and are probably best left to a good Lynda.com tutorial, or better yet a physics class on optics and lighting like the one I took in college.

Diving In
The Zylight IS3/c comes with the light head itself, Yoke bar with 5/8-inch baby pin-adapter, some knobs and washers, AC adapter and hanging pouch, safety cable, guide and the Chimera softbox (if you purchased the IS3/c package). Before reading the manual, which would have been the proper thing to do, I immediately opened the box and plugged in the light. It lit up the whole interior of my house at night — think Christmas Vacation when Clark plugged in the Christmas lights (good movie). I saw, in one second, how I could immediately paint a wall (or all of my walls) with the IS3.

The beauty of LED lights is that they are typically lightweight and some can reproduce any color you can dream of while staying cool to the touch. So I wanted to see if I could paint a 15-foot wall chromakey green. With little effort I switched into color mode by flipping the rocker switch on the back of the light, turned the Hue knob until I hit green, and adjusted the saturation to 100% to try and literally paint my wall green with light. It was pretty incredible and dead simple.

The IS3 has a 90-degree beam angle on center with a 120-degree beam angle total (I found multiple specs on this like 95/115-degree beam angle, so this is approximate), has a power consumption of 220 watts max, can be purchased in black and white and is made in the USA. The IS3 has two presets for white light and two presets for color. In white mode the IS3 can output any color temperature between 2500K and 10,000K. The Kelvin range is adjusted in 50K steps. Because LEDs are known for giving off a green tint, there is an adjustment knob to lower or raise the green adjustment. There is also a dimmer knob that allows for dimming with little color shift. In color mode, there are three adjustments: hue, saturation and dimming.

One of the big features among IS3 lights, and Zylight lights in general, is the built-in wireless transmitter that can talk to the Zylink bridge and Zylink iOs app. You can link multiple lights together and control them simultaneously. With the iOs app you can set hue values and even color presets like crossfade, strobe, police and flame. You can run the Zylight by either the AC adapter or rechargeable battery. The outside of the light is built sturdy with a rubberized front and a metal back that doubles as heat dissipation as well. In addition to the Zylink wireless connection, you can use the DMX connection to connect to and control the Zylight.

In the end, the Zylight IS3/c is the soft light as well as wall wash light that I’ve been dreaming of. I was even thinking I could use the IS3 as Christmas lights. I could get a couple IS3s to paint the house red and green.

The Zylight is as easy to configure as any light I have ever used; unfortunately the price doesn’t match its ease of use. It’s pricey. The IS3/c is currently listed on Adorama.com for $2,699, and just the IS3 is $2,389. But you get what you pay for — it’s a professional light that will run 50,000 hours without needing calibration, it weighs 11 pounds and measures 18.5” x 10.75” x 1.9” — and you will most likely not need to replace this light.

If you run a stage show and need to control multiple lights with multiple color combinations quickly, the Zylink wireless bridge and iOs app may be just for you.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 13, Part 2

By Brady Betzel

In Part 1 of my review of Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite 13, I went through Magic Bullet Looks 4 as well as Colorista IV. Both are color correction and grading plug-ins that are compatible with Adobe’s After Effects and Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Motion.

For this review, I will cover the rest of the Magic Bullet Suite 13, including Denoiser III, Mojo II, Cosmo II, Renoiser and Magic Bullet Film. Denoiser III is my definite favorite, by the way.

Denoiser III
In my opinion, Denoiser III is one of the standouts in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 plug-in package because of its magical ability to remove noise quickly and easily. Noise reduction is typically a very long render because of the sheer complexity that is involved in the process. Denoiser III has been rewritten and now adds near realtime playback in most cases; the better the discrete graphics card you have, the better your playback will be. You can check out graphics card compatibility here.

Denoiser 3 – Looks and Denoiser applied.

The options are limited and I believe we are better off for it. A lot of denoise plug-ins have an abundance of options when, in reality, unless you are an online editor nerd like me or a colorist, you probably don’t have time to mess around with the different noise removal options and render each time. Denoiser III has five options: Reduce Noise, Smooth Colors, Preserve Detail, Sharpen Amount and Sharpen Radius.

When removing noise from footage, remember that the more you crank up your noise reduction the longer your render time will be, and you will also start to lose detail in your image. Occasionally, you will remove and sharpen an image and think that it looks a little too cleaned up. This is when you will want to jump into Magic Bullet Renoiser or apply your own film grain or noise to the footage. Another tip is to always place Denoiser III first in your effects chain. You can even put Magic Bullet Looks 4 after Denoiser III, apply your look in Looks and jump back into Denoiser III to adjust your noise after corrected.

When testing in Premiere Pro, I imported some Sony A6300 S-Log3/S-Gamut3 footage lying around. I filmed a close-up of my wife sewing, with just the light of the sewing machine to light the scene. In addition, I shot it in slow motion at 1920×1080 at 23.98fps. I exported 15 seconds of the “raw” footage from Premiere Pro via Adobe Media Encoder as a 1920×1080, 50Mb/s H.264, which took 33 seconds. With Denoiser III applied, it took 46 seconds, about a 29% increase in time. With Denoiser III and Magic Bullet Looks 4 applied, the export took the same 46 seconds. After I was done exporting, I saw that all of the H.264 exports with Denoiser III applied to them were corrupt and unusable in a traditional sense. In another sense, they were pretty awesome. Either way, be sure to check out that link to graphics card compatibility that I have earlier in this review. That should be strictly adhered to. In my head, I thought “Yeah right, I know you say you need an Nvidia or AMD GPU, but I’m sure my Intel…. Nope. Didn’t work.” So check out the compatibility before jumping in head first like me. Aside from that one hiccup, the screen grabs I took will show you how well the Denoiser III works. I tried Denoiser III on a much higher-end system with a discrete Nvidia Quadro card, and Denoiser III worked just as described.

Denoiser III either comes bundled in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 for $899 or can be purchased separately for $199.

Renoiser
As you have read, I just pulled out a lot of noise with Denoiser III, but I definitely want to put back just a touch of texture and noise with Renoiser. A common problem when removing noise from footage is that you are left having an overly processed look from smoothing. Typically, you can somewhat fix that with a little sharpening and/or adding back in some sort of film grain.

Denoiser and Renoiser

Magic Bullet Renoiser will allow you to add GPU-accelerated film-style grain and/or digital style noise to your footage in Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Blackmagic’s Resolve, Eduis and HitFilm. You can find specfic version compatibility info for these apps with Renoiser here.

Typically, to add noise or grain back to your footage you would purchase stock film grain from somewhere like www.rampantdesigntools.com or gorillagrain.com. Both companies have some great grain offerings, so you should check them out, but stock grain is applied over the footage with a blending mode, like overlay. What Renoiser does is apply the grain and noise as part of your moving image; it’s not an overlay. If you zoom into your image after applying one of the Renoiser presets you will see the actual picture being pseudo-recreated with the grain and/or noise.

Under the Renoiser plug-in you get some quick sharpening options that are handy, even though it’s not a sharpening plug-in. There are 16 presets, including 8mm and 16mm, as well as grain settings like size, color channels, monochrome options and even Tonal Range adjustments to dial in your highlight, midtone and shadow grain work. While this plug-in is GPU-accelerated, it does work with Intel GPUs, so it did not give the same errors on export that I got with Denoiser III.

For my tests, I liked the preset Big Kahuna for the sunset shot I had. This was shot on the Sony a6300 in S-Log3/S-Gamut3, but this time with a UHD 3840×2160 clip in a 1920×1080 timeline, lending itself to a good amount of noise in the shadows. First I added Denoiser III, then Colorista IV to do some balancing and add some saturation and then I finished it off with Renoiser.

I really cranked up the Renoiser to show off its work, but adding noise is usually a practice in subtly. Typically, adding noise is to give an overall cohesion to your film or, oppositely, a disruption. For my footage, while I cranked Renoiser way up it really didn’t overdo it, which is nice; it seems like Red Giant kind of allows you to go all out without destroying your footage with too much artificial grain or noise.

While watching Stu Maschwitz’s (@5tu) Renoiser tutorial I picked up a great tip that I had never thought about — when sending your project through a second compression service, like YouTube, you may notice some of your footage can get artifacting such as banding (rings in things like sunsets or gradients). Stu suggests that because your footage may be too smooth, the compressor can cheat a bit and not fully process your footage, leaving certain areas with banding. A workaround can be to add a light amount of noise to your footage to ensure that the compressor processes your footage completely. In Renoiser, there are a couple of presets like Light Noise, Image Vitamins, and Compression Proofing that might help in getting past those issues.

To test the rendering/exporting power of Renoiser I made a 30-second 50Mb/s H.264 QuickTime from my UHD media, downscaled to HD through Media Encoder. With Magic Bullet Colorista IV and Renoiser applied to the 30-second clip, it took three minutes and four seconds to export. Without Renoiser but with Colorista IV, it took one minute and 30 seconds — roughly 100% speed decrease when using Renoiser. Keep in mind I am on a slower Intel-based GPU, so if you have something like an Nvidia GTX 1080, your results will probably be significantly improved. However, adding and removing noise is an intensive process so that is definitely something to remember.

At first I wasn’t sure if I would be pumped on using Renoiser, since there are so many options out there for adding noise to footage, but I have been convinced. The quality of noise generation and options to personalize it are outstanding. Using Denoiser III, Looks 4 or Colorista IV and Renoiser seems to be a great combo when finishing your project. In the future, I would like to see some more options in the preset category, but with the 16 presets there now, and even an option for a custom preset of your own, you have plenty to choose from.

Mojo II
Out of all the Magic Bullet Suite 13 plug-ins. Mojo II is the one that will provide an instantly recognizable look with one click. Mojo II will basically pull the orange and blue trick while adding a nice contrast curve. A common trend in color correction is to cool off the shadows with blue and warm up the skin tones/mid tones with orange; this is a very popular look from Michael Bay films, hence the preset “Optimus” inside of the Mojo II presets.

Mojo II

To begin, you need to specify whether you have footage that is video, flat, Log or Log Pro. Essentially, Log Pro is footage shot with high-end cameras like the Alexa. But you’ll need to experiment because these are essentially a starting LUT and you have control over what looks the best. For instance, I brought in some more Sony s6300 S-Log3/S-Gamut3 footage, and at first I thought regular old Log would do it, but Log Pro was actually the right fit. There are 15 presets in Mojo II, including Optimus, Light, Mojo and War. Applying a preset really seems like the best way to start in Mojo II.

Since you probably aren’t going to dive too heavily into color correction, adding a preset is the best way to start. There are 13 options in Mojo. A few important ones are: Mojo, which essentially lets you customize the amount of orange and blue that goes into a shot; Punch It, which is contrast; Bleach It; Fade it; and Corrections, which allows for exposure adjustments and other important footage correcting options.

To test my export speed, I used my handy YouTube-friendly preset: 1920×1080 50Mb/s H.264. Exporting a 30-second clip took 30 seconds without Mojo II and one minute and one second with Mojo II applied. So, like the other plug-ins, Mojo II took me about double realtime for the render. At $99, Mojo II is the fastest way to take your footage and give it that orange and blue Hollywood-style look. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the plug-in worked. Immediately, I thought of how someone not familiar with color correction could apply Magic Bullet Suite Mojo II and have a great color grade without the hassle of diving deep into color correction tools. Even if you need to do a little cleanup, there are options like the Skin Tone overlay to get your skin colors right.

Cosmo II
One of the most underused color correction methods is skin correction. A lot of people will color correct for a wrong skin tone, or color cast in a shot, but most will not do beauty work. Why? Because it’s not so easy. A lot of times you have to pull a color key of the skin you want to correct, do a light blur, re-sharpen, re-noise and hope the talent doesn’t move their head too much or you will be tracking as well. With Red Giant’s Cosmo II you can easily select a skin tone to balance, remove lines or even attempt to remove blemishes. Skin correction is a very tough skill to master; there is a delicate balance between overly corrected and not corrected enough.

Cosmo II

With Cosmo II, you can select the skin tone of the subject you want to correct with the eyedropper and adjust how far outside of your color selection you want Cosmo to go with tolerance and offset. Further down the effects menu are two other categories of options: Skin Smoothing and Skin Color. Typically, in skin correction you might see someone go overboard with the softening (or blurring). One way that Red Giant is combatting bad skin correction is with adjustments like Preserve Detail, Preserve Contrast and even Restore Noise. When used in concert you can achieve some great wrinkle removal, but allow some of the authentic contours of the skin to stay intact with Preserving Detail.

Under the Skin Color menu you can fix things like blotchy colors with Skin Yellow/Pink and Skin Color Unify. Much like the other Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 13 plugins, you can also enable the “Show Skin Overlay,” which throws an orange grid over your skin tone selection to help guide you towards a proper skin color. Nothing is better, however, than the human eye when using a properly calibrated monitor, so don’t forget to take a step back and actually digest the adjustments you are making.

Magic Bullet Film
Last in the Magic Bullet Suite 13 package is Magic Bullet Film — a set of negative stocks and print stocks that help you emulate the look of actual film. First you choose your type of video: Video, Flat, or Log. Then you can choose a Negative Stock and Print Stock. While I am a post nerd, I definitely do not have every print and negative stock committed to memory, so cycling through the options is helpful. I had some footage I shot at Disneyland California Adventure that was captured inside of a room with tons of crazy lights and screens, but it seemed to be a great shot to test Magic Bullet Film on. I applied the negative stock Prolochrome P4400 and the print stock Fujifilm 3521XD. My shot had some nice greens and blues in it and these seemed to complement it well. I was really impressed with how the footage looked with Magic Bullet Film applied; it gave a really over-the-top teal look. After you apply the look you can dial-in some specifics like color temperature, exposure, contrast, skin tone, grain and even a vignette.

Magic Bullet Film

Another interesting adjustment is the Vintage/Modern slider, which, when boosted, adds a contrasty blue and yellow look. When lowered, it adds a brown, washed-out look.

Summing Up
When I finally finished this two-part extra-long review, my appreciation for “set-it-and-forget-it” plug-ins. Magic Bullet Suite 13 is a phenomenal set of color correction plug-ins that allow you to do as much or as little as you want to your footage while always having a great end product.

You really can’t put a value on a truly great colorist — they put a certain shine on video that sometimes can’t even be put into words. But with that responsibility and skill comes a heavy price tag — for the rest of us you can still get a great look with Magic Bullet Suite 13. Find out more on Red Giant’s website — the entire suite runs $899, but you can purchase each plug-in separately.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.