Tag Archives: Brady Betzel

Review: Maxon Cinema 4D Studio Release 18

By Brady Betzel

Each year I get to test out some of the latest and greatest software and hardware releases our industry has to offer. One of my favorites — and most challenging — is Maxon’s Cinema 4D. I say challenging because while I love Cinema 4D, I don’t use it every day. So, in order to test it thoroughly, I watched tutorials on Cineversity to brush up on what I forgot and what’s new. Even though I don’t use it every day, I do love it.

I’ve reviewed Cinema 4D Release 15 through R18. I started using the product when I was studying at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California, which coincidentally is about 10 minutes from Maxon’s Newbury Park office.

Voronoi Fracture

Each version update has been packed full of remarkable additions and updates. From the grass generator in R15, addition of the Reflectance channel in R16, lens distortion tools in R17 to the multitude of updates in R18 — Cinema 4D keeps on cranking out the hits. I say multitude because there are a ton of updates packed into the latest Cinema 4D Release 18 update. You can check out a complete list of them as well as comparisons between Cinema 4D Studio, Visualize, Broadcast, Prime, BodyPaint 3D and Lite Release 18 versions on the Maxon site.

For this review, I’m going to touch on three of what I think are the most compelling updates in Release 18: the new Voronoi Fracture, Thin Film Shader and the Push Apart Effector. Yes, I know there are a bazillion other great updates to Cinema 4D R18 — such as Weight Painting, new Knife Tools, Inverse Ambient Occlusion, the ability to save cache files externally and many more — but I’m going to stick to the features that I think stand out.

Keep in mind that I am using Cinema 4D Studio R18 for this review, so if you don’t have Studio, some of the features might not be available in your version. For instance, I am going to touch on some of the MoGraph toolset updates, and those are only inside the Studio and Broadcast versions. Finally, while you should use a super powerful workstation to get the smoothest and most robust experience when using Cinema 4D R18, I am using a tablet that uses a quad core Intel i7 3.1GHz processor, 8GB of RAM and an Intel Iris graphics 6100 GPU. Definitely on the lower end of processing power for this app, but it works and I have to credit Maxon for making it work so well.

Voronoi Fracture
If, like me, you’ve never heard of the term Voronoi, check out the first paragraph of this Wiki page. A very simple way to imagine a Voronoi diagram is a bunch of cell-like polygons that are all connected (there’s a much more intricate and deeply mathematical definition, but I can barely understand it, and it’s really beyond the scope of this review). In Cinema 4D Studio R18, the Voronoi Fracture object allows us to easily, and I mean really easily, procedurally break apart objects like MoGraph text, or any other object, without the need for external third-party plug-ins such as Nitro4D’s Thrausi.

Voronoi Fracture

To apply Voronoi Fracture in as few steps as possible, you apply the Voronoi Fracture located in the MoGraph menu to your object, adjust parameters under the Sources menu (like distribution type or point amount) add effectors to cause dispersion, keyframe values and render. With a little practice you can explode your raytraced MoGraph text in no time. The best part is your object will not look fractured until animated, which in the past took some work so this is a great update.

Thin Film Shader
Things that are hard to recreate in a photorealistic way are transparent objects, such as glass bottles, windows and bubbles. In Cinema 4D R18, Maxon has added the new Thin Film Shader, which can add the film-like quality that you see on bubbles or soap. It’s an incredible addition to Cinema 4D, furthering the idea that Maxon is concentrating on adding features that improve efficiency for people like me who want to use Cinema 4D, but sometimes don’t because making a material like Thin Film will take a long time.

To apply the Thin Film to your object, find the Reflectance channel of your material that you want to add the Thin Film property to add a new Beckmann or GGX layer, lower the Specular Strength of this layer to zero, under Layer Color choose Texture > Effects > Thin Film. From there, if you want to see the Thin Film as a true layer of film you need to change your composite setting to Add on your layer; you should then see it properly. You can get some advanced tips from the great tutorials over at Cineversity and from Andy Needham (Twitter: @imcalledandy) on lynda.com. One tip I learned from Andy is to change the Index of Refraction to get some different looks, which can be found under the Shader properties.

Push Apart Effector

Push Apart Effector
The new Push Apart Effector is a simple but super-powerful addition to Cinema 4D. The easiest way to describe the Push Apart Effector is to imagine a bunch of objects in an array or using a Cloner where all of your objects are touching — the Push Apart Effector helps to push them away from each other. To decrease the intersection of your clones, you can dial-in the specific radius of your objects (like a sphere) and then tell Cinema 4D R18 how many times you want it to look through the scene by specifying iterations. The more iterations the less chance your objects will intersect, but the more time it will take to compute.

Summing Up
I love Maxon’s continual development of Cinema 4D in Release 18. I specifically love that while they are adding new features, like Weight Painting and Update Knife Tools, they are also helping to improve efficiency for people like me who love to work in Cinema 4D but sometimes skip it because of the steep learning curve and technical know-how you need in order to operate it. You should not fear though, I cannot emphasize how much you can learn at Cineversity, Lynda.com, and on YouTube from an expert like Sean Frangella. Whether you are new to the world of Cinema 4D, mildly experienced like me, or an expert you can always learn something new.

Something I love about Maxon’s licensing for education is that if you go to a qualified school, you can get a free Cinema 4D license. Instructors can get access to Cineversity to use the tutorials in their curriculum as well as project files to use. It’s an amazing resource.

Thin Film Render

If you are an Adobe After Effects user, don’t forget that you automatically get a free version of Cinema 4D bundled with After Effects — Cinema 4D Lite. Even though you have to have After Effects open to use the Cinema 4D Lite, it is still a great way to dip your toes into the 3D world, and maybe even bring your projects back into After Effects to do some compositing.

Cinema 4D Studio R18’s pricing breaks down like this: Commercial Pricing/Annual License Pricing/Upgrade R17 to R18 pricing — Cinema 4D Studio Release 18: $3,695/$650 /$995; Cinema 4D Visualize Release 18: $2,295/$500/$795; Cinema 4D Broadcast Release 18: $1,695/$400 /$795; Cinema 4D Prime Release 18: $995/$250/$395.

Another interesting option is Maxon’s short-term licensing in three- or six-month chunks for the Studio version ($600/$1,100) and 75 percent of the fees you pay for a short-term license can be applied to your purchase of a full license later. Keep in mind, when using such a powerful and robust software like Cinema 4D you are making an investment that will payoff with concentrated effort in learning the software. With a few hours of training from some of the top trainers — like Tim Clapham on www.hellolux.com, Greyscalegorilla.com and Motionworks.com — you will be off and running in 3D land.

For everyday Cinema 4D creations and inspiration, check out @beeple_crap on Instagram. He produces amazing work all the time.

In this review, I tested some of the new updates to Cinema 4D Studio R18 with sample projects from Andy Needham’s Lynda.com class Cinema 4D R18: New Features and Joren Kandel’s awesome website, which offers tons of free content to play with while learning the new tools.


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: Polaroid camera accessories

By Brady Betzel

When you hear the name Polaroid, your mind likely serves up an image of an instant camera, but that image might vary depending on your age. Not long ago, the once ubiquitous company sold off its last instant film factory — to a very interesting company named Impossible — and began to produce new cameras for the digital age as well as boatloads of camera accessories. (Check out their refurbished Polaroid format cameras and film here.)

You can pretty much find anything you want among Polaroid’s offerings, from sliders to their own HD action camera. For this article, I chose to focus on three camera accessories that I think every prosumer videographer could make use of. Because, let’s be honest, many editors and video pros shoot their own projects on the side, so why not be outfitted for the job? And let’s not forget those filmmakers who aren’t precious about getting just the right shot, whether it’s with a Canon DSLR or a GoPro.

Panorama Pan Head
Up first is the Polaroid remote controlled 360-degree Panorama Pan Head. It’s a small, mountable, remote-controllable, motorized pan mount for your GoPro, smart phone or any camera weighing around 1.2 pounds. Physically, it’s a little smaller than a tennis ball. It has fold-out legs that can act as a surprisingly sturdy stand, or it can be mounted to a standard tripod via its ¼-inch screw mount.

Since I love to shoot using GoPro cameras, I wanted to test this out with my Hero 5 Black Edition. Along with the pan head, you get a detachable GoPro Mount, a smart phone holder to get those panoramic pictures and a remote.

The remote has a less-than-awesome design, but it works! Once you mount your camera of choice, you can go left and right, faster and slower, press one button to rotate the camera 75 degrees and return home, or set up a rotational timelapse by telling it to rotate five degrees every 10 seconds.

If you are looking at this for panoramic shots on your iPhone or Samsung Android phone, you can connect the Bluetooth and use the remote as a wireless shutter trigger. I have to say that the Bluetooth connected easily and quickly, which doesn’t always happen in life, so I was particularly happy about that. The pan head is rechargeable via an included micro USB cable. It only took me a few hours to recharge, but the manual says up to eight hours for a full charge.

In my experience, the pan head isn’t a necessary piece of equipment. It’s more a fun piece of niche hardware that you will use in few shoots. If you shoot a ton of panoramic shots and want them to be consistent then the pan head is for you. The timelapse feature is interesting but I’ve messed around with some “egg timers” that people have retrofitted with 1/4-inch screw mounts that have been just as good and cost a lot less. You can find this Polaroid 360 Pan Head on Amazon.com for $49.99.

Track Slider
Up next is the Polaroid 24-inch Rail Track Slider. There are a lot of sliders on the market and some for almost impossibly cheap prices. The Polaroid slider comes in two varieties: 24-inch and 48-inch. I do a lot of product shooting for these reviews, so the 24-inch was just the right size for me.

I tested it out with a ball head tripod mount holding a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and zoom lens. Sliders really add another level of professionalism to any video, so if you are looking to take your shots to the next level definitely buy a camera slider. A few pushes and slides really make a difference and add some great dimensionality to any shot. Polaroid’s slider has detachable and adjustable legs, tension adjustment on the carriage itself to adjust slide speeds and a ¼-inch screw mount on the bottom to mount onto a tripod.

In addition, it has ¼-inch mounts on either side of the slider to mount it vertically to a tripod. I used the slider quite a few times and noticed that it worked well. I also noticed that the sliding of the carriage wasn’t always consistent; even when I was super-cautious and careful I would get some bumps. The carriage screw wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked, but for $99 you need to remember you aren’t getting a $1,700 Syrp motion-controlled slider. The slider itself is relatively light, comes in a very sturdy bag with handles and transports easily.

65-Inch Varipod
Last on the list is the Polaroid 65-inch Varipod — a telescoping monopod with removable tripod balance stand. Polaroid has really stuck to keeping prices low with their accessories, and they continue with the Varipod, which is priced at $49.99. While cheap, the monopod is very sturdy. I didn’t have a problem mounting my Canon DSLR with lens.

I was feeling particularly brave and decided to let the monopod hold my DSLR by itself — the Varipod held up just fine. The Varipod can get up to 65-inches tall, but I never needed it to go that high. One trick hidden inside the screw mount is that you can flip over the ⅜-inch screw and on the bottom is a ¼-inch screw mount. The best part about the Varipod is the detachable legs. If you want to take the legs off and use them as a sort of table tripod you can.

Summing Up
Polaroid has thrown every camera accessory against the wall to see what sticks. While the monopod and the pan head are interesting, and if you need them you will know, the real gem is the Polaroid 24-inch slider. If you buy one accessory other than a sweet lens, lighting or a tripod, you need to buy a slider. For $99 you really get a great starting slider and may never need to buy one again. I warn you though, once you start using the slider you might get sucked down the motorized slider rabbit hole.

You can find these Polaroid accessories on Amazon.com for purchase.


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: Apple’s new MacBook Pro

By Brady Betzel

What do you need to know about the latest pro laptop from Apple? Well, the MacBook Pro is fast and light; the new Touch Bar is handy and sharp but not fully realized; the updated keys on the keyboard are surprisingly great; and working with ProRes QuickTime files in resolutions higher than 1920×1080 inside of FCP X, or any NLE for that matter, is blazing fast.

When I was tasked with reviewing the new MacBook Pro, I came into it with an open mind. After all, I did read a few other reviews that weren’t exactly glowing, but I love speed and innovation among professional workstation computers, so I was eager to test it myself.

I am pretty open-minded when it comes to operating systems and hardware. I love Apple products and I love Windows-based PCs. I think both have their place in our industry, and to be quite honest it’s really a bonus for me that I don’t rely heavily on one OS or get too tricked by the Command Key vs. Windows/Alt Key.

Let’s start with the call I had with the Apple folks as they gave me the lowdown on the new MacBook Pro. The Apple reps were nice, energetic, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While I love Apple products, including this laptop, it’s not the be-all-end-all.

The Touch Bar is nice, but not a revolution. It feels like the first step in an evolution, a version 1 of an innovation that I am excited to see more of in later iterations. When I talked with the Apple folks they briefed me on what Tim Cook showed off in the reveal: emoji buttons, wide gamut display, new speakers and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.

NLEs
They had an FCPX expert on the call, which was nice considering I planned on reviewing the MacBook Pro with a focus on the use of nonlinear editing apps, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic’s Resolve. Don’t get me wrong, FCPX is growing on me — it’s snappy jumping around the timeline with ProRes 5K footage; assigning roles are something I wish every other app would pick up on; and the timeline is more of a breeze to use with the latest update.

The other side to this is that in my 13 years of working in television post I have never worked on a show that primarily used FCP or FCPX to edit or finish on. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the NLE, it simply means I haven’t relied on it in a professional working environment. Like I said, I really like the road it’s heading down, and if they work their way into mainstream broadcast or streaming platforms a little more I am sure I will see it more frequently.

Furthermore, with the ever-growing reduction in reliance on groups of editors and finishing artists apps like FCPX are poised to shine with their innovation. After all that blabbering, in this review I will touch on FCPX, but I really wanted to see how the MacBook Pro performed with the pro NLEs I encounter the most.

Specs
Let’s jump into the specs. I was sent a top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which costs $3,499 if configured online. It comes with a quad/-core Intel Core i7 2.9GHz (up to 3.8 GHz using Turbo Boost) processor, 16GB of 2133MHz memory, 1TB PCI-e SSD hard drive and Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory. It’s loaded. I think the only thing that can actually be upgraded beyond this configuration would be to include a 2TB hard drive, which would add another $800 to the price tag.

Physically, the MacBook Pro is awesome — very sturdy, very thin and very light. It feels great when holding it and carrying it around. Apple even sent along a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which costs an extra $29 and a USB-C to Lightning Cable that costs an extra $29.

So yes, it feels great. Apple has made a great new MacBook Pro. Is it worth upgrading if you have a new-ish MacBook Pro at home already? Probably not, unless the Touch Bar really gets you going. The speed is not too far off from the previous version. However, if you have a lot of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-connected peripherals, or plan on moving to them, then it is a good upgrade.

Testing
I ran some processor/graphics card intensive tests while I had the new MacBook Pro and came to the conclusion that FCPX is not that much faster than Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 when working with non-ProRes-based media. Yes, FCPX tears through ProRes QuickTimes if you already have your media in that format. What about if you shoot on a camera like the Red and don’t want to transcode to a more edit-friendly codec? Well, that is another story. To test out my NLEs, I grabbed a sample Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps clip from the Red sample footage page, strung out a 10-minute-long sequence in all the NLEs and exported both a color-graded version and a non-color-graded version as ProRes HQ QuickTimes files matching the source file’s specs.

In order to work with Red media in some of the NLEs, you must download a few patches: for FCPX you must install the Red Apple workflow installer and for Media Composer you must install the Red AMA plug-in. Premiere doesn’t need anything extra.

Test 1: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute sequence (no color grade or FX) exported as ProRes HQ matching the source file’s specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = 1 hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = 1 hour, 57 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 42 minutes (Good news, Media Composer’s interface and fonts display correctly on the new display).

You’ll notice that Resolve is missing from this list and that is because I installed Resolve 12.5.4 Studio but then realized my USB dongle won’t fit into the USB-C port — and I am not buying an adapter for a laptop I do not get to keep. So, unfortunately, I didn’t test a true 6K ProRes HQ export from Resolve but in the last test you will see some Resolve results.

Overall, there was not much difference in speeds. In fact, I felt that Premiere Pro CC 2017 played the Red file a little smoother and at a higher frames-per-second count. FCPX struggled a little. Granted a 6K Red file is one of the harder files for a CPU to process with no debayer settings enabled, but Apple touts this as a MacPro semi-replacement for the time being and I am holding them to their word.

Test 2: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence exported as ProRes HQ matching the source files specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 58 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 34 minutes.

It’s important to note that the GPU definitely helped out in both Adobe Premiere and FCPX. Little to no extra time was added on the ProRes HQ export. I was really excited to see this as sometimes without a good GPU — resizing, GPU-accelerated effects like color correction and other effects will slow your system to a snail’s pace if it doesn’t fully crash. Media Composer surprisingly speed up its export when I added the color grade as a new color layer in the timeline. By adding the color correction layer to another layer Avid might have forced the Radeon to kick in and help push the file out. Not really sure what that is about to be honest.

Test 3: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence resized to 1920×1080 on export as ProRes HQ. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 16 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 14 minutes. Media Composer = one hour, 48 minutes. Resolve = one hour, 16 minutes

So after these tests, it seems that exporting and transcoding are all about the same. It doesn’t really come as too big of a surprise that all the NLEs, except for Media Composer, processed the Red file in the same amount of time. Regardless of the NLE, you would need to knock the debayering down to a half or more to start playing these clips at realtime in a timeline. If you have the time to transcode to ProRes you will get much better playback and rendering speed results. Obviously, transcoding all of your files to a codec, like ProRes or Avid DNX, takes way more time up front but could be worth it if you crunched for time on the back end.

In addition to Red 6K files, I also tested ProRes HQ 4K files inside of Premiere and FCPX, and both played them extremely smoothly without hiccups, which is pretty amazing. Just a few years ago I was having trouble playing down 10:1 compressed files in Media Composer and now I can playback superb-quality 4K files without a problem, a tremendous tip of the hat to technology and, specifically, Apple for putting so much power in a thin and light package.

While I was in the mood to test speeds, I hooked up a Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID (OWC Thunderbay 4 mini) configured in RAID-0 to see what kind of read/write bandwidth I would get running through the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I used both AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The AJA test reported a write speed of 929MB/sec. and read speed of 1120MB/sec. The Blackmagic test reported a write speed of 683.1MB/sec. and 704.7MB/sec. from different tests and a read speed of 1023.3MB/sec. I set the test file for both at 4GB. These speeds are faster than what I have previously found when testing this same Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID on other systems.

For comparison, the AJA test reported a write speed of 1921MB/sec. and read speed of 2134MB/sec. when running on the system drive. The Blackmagic test doesn’t allow for testing on the system drive.

What Else You Need to Know
So what about the other upgrades and improvements? When exporting these R3D files I noticed the fan kicked on when resizing or adding color grading to the files. Seems like the GPU kicked on and heated up which is to be expected. The fan is not the loudest, but it is noticeable.

The battery life on the new MacBook Pro is great when just playing music, surfing the web or writing product reviews. I found that the battery lasted about two days without having to plug in the power adapter. However, when exporting QuickTimes from either Premiere or FCPX the battery life dropped — a lot. I was getting a battery life of one hour and six minutes, which is not good when your export will take two hours. Obviously, you need to plug in when doing heavy work; you don’t really have an option.

This leads me to the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports — and, yes, you still have a headphone jack (thank goodness they didn’t talk with the iPhone developers). First off, I thought the MagSafe power adapter should have won a Nobel Peace Prize. I love it. It must be responsible for saving millions of dollars in equipment when people trip over a power cord — gracefully disconnecting without breaking or pulling your laptop off the table. However, I am disappointed Apple didn’t create a new type of MagSafe cable with the USB-C port. I will miss it a lot. The good news is you can now plug in your power adapter to either side of the MacBook Pro.

Adapters and dongles will have to be purchased if you pick up a new MacBook Pro. Each time I used an external peripheral or memory card like an SD card, Tangent Ripple Color Correction panel or external hard drive, I was disappointed that I couldn’t plug them in. Nonetheless, a good Thunderbolt 3 dock is a necessity in my opinion. You could survive with dongles but my OCD starts flaring up when I have to dig around my backpack for adapters. I’m just not a fan. I love how Apple dedicated themselves to a fast I/O like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but I really wish they gave it another year. Just one old-school USB port would have been nice. I might have even gotten over no SD card reader.

The Touch Bar
I like it. I would even say that I love it — in the apps that are compatible. Right now there aren’t many. Adobe released an update to Adobe Photoshop that added compatibility with the Touch Bar, and it is really handy especially when you don’t have your Wacom tablet available (or a USB dongle to attach it). I love how it gives access to so many levels of functionality to your tools within your immediate reach.

It has super-fast feedback. When I adjusted the contrast on the Touch Bar I found that the MacBook Pro was responding immediately. This becomes even more evident in FCPX and the latest Resolve 12.5.4 update. It’s clear Apple did their homework and made their apps like Mail and Messages work with the Touch Bar (hence emojis on the Touch Bar). FCPX has a sweet ability to scrub the timeline, zoom in to the timeline, adjust text and more from just the Touch Bar — it’s very handy, and after a while I began missing it when using other computers.
In Blackmagic’s latest DaVinci Resolve release, 12.5.4, they have added Touch Bar compatibility. If you can’t plug in your color correction panels, the Touch Bar does a nice job of easing the pain. You can do anything from contrast work to saturation, even adjust the midtones and printer lights, all from the Touch Bar. If you use external input devices a lot, like Wacom tablets or color correction panels, the Touch Bar will be right up your alley.

One thing I found missing was a simple application launcher on the Touch Bar. If you do pick up the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you might want to download Touch Switcher, a free app I found via 9to5mac.com that allows you to have an app launcher on your Touch Bar. You can hide the dock, allowing you more screen real estate and the efficient use of the Touch Bar to launch apps. I am kind of surprised Apple didn’t make something like this standard.

The Display
From a purely superficial and non-scientific point of view, the newly updated P3-compatible wide-gamut display looks great… really great, actually. The colors are rich and vibrant. I did a little digging under the hood and noticed that it is an 8-bit display (data that you can find by locating the pixel depth in the System Information > Graphics/Display), which might limit the color gradations when working in a color space like P3 as opposed to a 10-bit display displaying in a P3 color space. Simply, you have a wider array of colors in P3 but a small amount of color shades to fill it up.

The MacBook Pro display is labeled as 32-bit color meaning the RGB and Alpha channels each have 8 bits, giving a total of 32 bits. Eight-bit color gives 256 shades per color channel while 10-bit gives 1,024 shades per channel, allowing for much smoother transitions between colors and luminance values (imagine a sky at dusk going smoothly from an orange to light blue to dark blue — the more colors per channel allows for a smoother gradient between lights and darks). A 10-bit display would have 30-bit color with each channel having 10 bits.

I tried to hook up a 10-bit display, but the supplied Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 dongle Apple sent me did not work with the mini display port. I did a little digging and it seems people are generally not happy that Apple doesn’t allow this to work, especially since Thunderbolt 2 and mini DisplayPort are the same connection. Some people have been able to get around this by hooking up their display through daisy chaining something like a Thunderbolt 2 RAID.

While I couldn’t directly test an external display when I had the MacBook Pro, I’ve read that people have been able to push 10-bit color out of the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to an external monitor. So as long as you are at a desk with a monitor you can most likely have 10-bit color output from this system.

I reached out to Apple on the types of adapters they recommend for an external display and they suggest a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter made by Aukey. It retails for $9.99. They also recommend the USB-C to DisplayPort cable from StarTech, which retails for $39.99. Make sure you read the reviews on Amazon because the experience people have with this varies wildly. I was not able to test either of these so I cannot give my personal opinion.

Summing Up
In the end, the new MacBook Pro is awesome. If you own a recent release of the MacBook Pro and don’t have $3,500 to spare, I don’t know if this is the update you will be looking for. If you are trying to find your way around going to a Windows-based PC because of the lack of Mac Pro updates, this may ease the pain slightly. Without more than 16GB of memory and an Intel Xeon or two, however, it might actually slow you down.

The battery life is great when doing light work, one of the longest batteries I’ve used on a laptop. But when doing the heavy work, you need to be near an outlet. When plugged into that outlet be careful no one yanks out your USB-C power adapter as it might throw your MacBook Pro to the ground or break off inside.

I really do love Apple products. They typically just work. I didn’t even touch on the new Touch ID Sensor that can immediately switch you to a different profile or log you in after waking up the MacBook Pro from sleep. I love that you can turn the new MacBook Pro on and it simply works, and works fast.

The latest iteration of FCPX is awesome as well, and just because I don’t see it being used a lot professionally doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It’s a well-built NLE that should be given a fairer shake than it has been given. If you are itching for an update to an old MacBook Pro, don’t mind having a dock or carrying around a bunch of dongles, then the 2016 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is for you.

The new MacBook Pro chews through ProRes-based media from 1920×1080 to 4K, 6K and higher will play but might slow down. If you are a Red footage user this new MacBook Pro works great, but you still might have to knock the debayering down a couple notches.


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: Lenovo ThinkStation P410

By Brady Betzel

With the lukewarm reaction of the professional community to the new Apple MacBook Pro, there are many creative professionals who are seriously — for the first time in their careers — considering whether or not to jump into a Windows-based world.

I grew up using an Apple II GS from 1986 (I was born in 1983, if you’re wondering), but I always worked on both Windows and Apple computers. I guess my father really instilled the idea of being independent and not relying on one thing or one way of doing something — he wanted me to rely on my own knowledge and not on others.

Not to get too philosophical, but when he purchased all the parts I needed to build my own Windows system, it was incredibly gratifying. I would have loved to have built my own Apple system, but obviously never could. That is why I am so open to computer systems of any operating system software.

If you are deciding whether or not to upgrade your workstation and have never considered solutions other than HP, Dell or Apple, you will want to read what I have to say about Lenovo‘s latest workstation, the P410.

When I set out on this review, I didn’t have any Display Port-compatible monitors and Lenovo was nice enough to send their beautiful Think Vision Pro 2840m — another great piece of hardware.

Digging In
I want to jump right into the specs of the ThinkStation P410. Under the hood is an Intel Xeon E5-1650 v4, which in plain terms is a 6-core 3.6GHz 15MB CPU that can reach all the way up to 4.0GHz if needed using Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. The graphics card is a medium-sized monster — the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory and 1664 CUDA cores. It has 4 DisplayPort 1.2 ports to power those four 30-bit 4096×2160 @60Hz displays you will run when editing and color correcting.

If you need more CUDA power you could step up to the Nvidia M5000, which runs 2048 CUDA cores or the M6000, which runs 3072 CUDA cores, but that power isn’t cheap (and as of this review they are not even an option from Lenovo in the P410 customization — you will probably have to step up to a higher model number).

There is 16GB of DD4-2400 ECC memory, 1TB 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSD (made by Macron), plus a few things like a DVD writer, media card reader, keyboard and mouse. At the time I was writing this review, you could configure this system for a grand total of $2,794, but if you purchase it online at shop.lenovo.com it will cost a little under $2,515 with some online discounts. As I priced this system out over a few weeks I noticed the prices changed, so keep in mind it could be higher. I configured a similar style HP z440 workstation for around $3,600 and a Dell Precision Tower 5000 for around $3,780, so Lenovo’s prices are on the low end for major-brand workstations.

For expansion (which Windows-based PCs seem to lead the pack in), you have a total of four DIMM slots for memory (two are taken up already by two 8GB sticks), four PCIe slots and four hard drive bays. Two of the hard drive bays are considered Flex Bays, which can be used for hard drives, hard drive + slim optical drive or something like front USB 3.0 ports.

On the back there are your favorite PS/2 keyboard port and mouse port, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, audio in/out/mic and four DisplayPorts.

Testing
I first wanted to test the P410’s encoding speed when using Adobe Media Encoder. I took a eight-minute, 30 second 1920×1080 23.98fps ProRes HQ QuickTime that I had filmed using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, did a quick color balance in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 using the Lumetri Color Correction tools and exported a Single Pass, variable bit rate 25Mb/s H.264 using Media Encoder. Typically, CUDA cores kick in when you use GPU-accelerated tools like transitions, scaling in Premiere and when you export files with GPU effects such as Lumetri Color tools. Typically, when exporting from tools, like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Adobe Media Encoder, the GPU acceleration kicks in only if you’ve applied GPU-accelerated effects, color correction with something like Lumetri (which is GPU accelerated) or a resize effect. Otherwise if you are just transcoding from one codec to another the CPU will handle the task.

In this test, it took Media Encoder about six minutes to encode the H.264 when Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (CUDA) was enabled. Without the GPU acceleration enabled it took 14 minutes. So by using the GPU, I got about a 40 percent speed increase thanks to the power of the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.

For comparison, I did the same test on a newly released MacBook Pro with Touch Bar i7 2.9Ghz Quad Core, 16GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory and AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB of RAM (uses OpenCL as opposed to CUDA); it took Media Encoder about nine minutes using the GPU.

Another test I love to run uses Maxon’s Cinebench, which simply runs real-world scenarios like photorealistic rendering and a 3D car chase. This taxes your system with almost one million polygons and textures. Basically, it makes your system do a bunch of math, which helps in separating immature workstations from the professional ones. This system came in around 165 frames per second. In comparison to other systems, with similar configurations to the P410, it placed first or second. So it’s fast.

Lenovo Performance Tuner
While the low price is what really sets the P410 apart from the rest of the pack, Lenovo has recently released a hardware tuning software program called Lenovo Performance Tuner. Performance Tuner is a free app that helps to focus your Lenovo workstation on the app you are using. For instance, I use Adobe CC a lot at home, so when I am working in Premiere I want all of my power focused there with minimal power focused on background apps that I may not have turned off — sometimes I let Chrome run in the background or I want to jump between Premiere, Resolve and Photoshop. You can simply launch Performance Tuner and click the app you want to launch in Lenovo’s “optimized” state. You can go further by jumping into the Settings tab and customize things like Power Management Mode to always be on Max Performance. It’s a pretty handy tool when you want to quickly funnel all of your computing resources to one app.

The Think Vision Pro Monitor
Lastly, I wanted to quickly touch on the Think Vision Pro 2840m LED backlit LCD monitor Lenovo let me borrow for this review. The color fidelity is awesome and can work at a resolution up to 3840×2160 (UHD, not full 4K). It will tilt and rotate almost any way you need it to, and it will even go full vertical at 90 degrees.

When working with P410 I had some problems with DisplayPort not always kicking in with the monitor, or any monitor for that matter. Sometimes I would have to unplug and plug the DisplayPort cable back in while the system was on for the monitor to recognize and turn on. Nonetheless, the monitor is awesome at 28 inches. Keep in mind it has a glossy finish so it might not be for you if you are near a lot of light or windows — while the color and brightness punch through, there is a some glare with other light sources in the room.

Summing Up
In the end, the Lenovo ThinkStation P410 workstation is a workhorse. Even though it’s at the entry level of Lenovo’s workstations, it has a lot of power and a great price. When I priced out a similar system using PC Partpicker, it ran about $2,600 — you can check out the DIY build I put together on PCPartpicker.com: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/r9H4Ps.

A drawback of DIY custom builds though is that they don’t include powerful support, a complete warranty from a single company or ISV certifications (ISV = Independent Software Vendors). Simply, ISVs are the way major workstation builders like HP, Dell and Lenovo test their workstations against commonly used software like Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer in workstation-focused industries like editing or motion graphics.

One of the most misunderstood benefits of a workstation is that it’s meant to run day and night. So not only do you get enterprise-level components like Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and Intel Xeon CPUs, the components are made for durability as well as performance. This way there is little downtime, especially in mission-critical environments. I didn’t get to run this system for months constantly, but I didn’t see any sign of problems in my testing.

When you buy a Lenovo workstation it comes with a three-year on-site warranty, which covers anything that goes wrong with the hardware itself, including faulty workmanship. But it won’t cover things like spills, drops or electrical surges.

I liked the Lenovo ThinkStation P410. It’s fast, does the job and has quality components. I felt that it lacked a few of today’s necessary I/O ports like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.

The biggest pro for this workstation is the overwhelmingly low price point for a major brand workstation like the ThinkStation P410. Check out the Lenovo website for the P410 and maybe even wander into the P910 aisle, which showcases some of the most powerful workstations they make.

Check out this video I made that gives you a closer look at (and inside) the workstation.

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.

Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus for when you want simple edits

By Brady Betzel

In the middle of 2016, Sony sold its nonlinear editing software Vegas to a 20-year-old German company called Magix. When they contacted me about reviewing their NLE Movie Edit Pro Plus, since I am always interested in the latest gear and software, I said, “sure.”

I was sent a copy of Movie Edit Pro Plus, and as I am typing this intro I am downloading around 5GB of additional content and templates to use inside the software. Immediately upon opening Movie Edit Pro Plus I get the feeling that this isn’t a professional NLE and to be honest, that isn’t a problem. Sometimes I just want to use something that is plug-and-play, so maybe that is how Movie Edit Pro Plus can work for you. Think of a Window’s version of iMovie when you don’t want to jump into FCPX to make a slideshow or family video. It even comes with prebuilt templates.

There are three versions of Movie Edit Pro: Standard, Plus and Pro. I am going over Plus, which retails for $99. The Pro version costs $129.99 while the Standard is around $49, but I was kind of confused by their site, which is running a deal where you get all the Pro benefits when you buy the $49 Standard edition. The Plus version adds features that include up to 99 tracks for video and audio, proxy video editing, shot matching, color correcting and some more templates and effects.

Immediately, I wanted to check out their keyboard shortcuts since I like to edit with as little clicking as possible. I found them in the help manual, but wouldn’t mind an onscreen keyboard layout/reassignment (me being a picky editor, I know). Then I loaded up their demo project that I was able to download and zoomed into the sequence using the scroll wheel on my mouse and the bar on the bottom of the timeline. It was a little strange as it zoomed into an arbitrary part of the sequence as opposed to where my edit indicator was on the timeline. To accurately zoom in you will need to use the keyboard shortcuts CTRL + Up Arrow or Down Arrow. Then I noticed you can place anything anywhere. Pretty crazy —you can put audio on video layers and put effects like timecode display anywhere you want… kind of like FCPX. It’s liberating I guess, but my OCD can’t really handle that yet. I’m really trying to get used to FCPX, I promise.

Sometimes I can’t help myself when I review products and I forget to start at the basics, like where to import your footage, audio or stills. So to back up a little bit, in the default view of Movie Edit Pro you get a few tabs on the top right: Import, Fades, Title and Effects. Each window has sub menus under the Fades menu you can see different types of transitions. It’s a little clunky but they get the job done. They have some cool preset transitions like card turns or slides. They are easy to apply by dragging them over the edit point between two clips. Once you apply it you can change the duration, for which you can only enter seconds or fractions of seconds, not frames like normal NLEs would use. By now you probably are getting the point that this is more of a beginner NLE or one for someone who wants to simply edit something without much technical thought.

On the plus side you do get a good amount of presets including title animations, subtitles, and even 3D title animations. One of my favorite plug-ins that comes with Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus is the Travel Route tool located in the Magix Tools drop down located under the Import tab. The Travel Route tool lets you set different stops along a trip, assign a way of travel like an airplane or car, and then animate your route. Animating a vacation along a map isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, even for an After Effects wiz, so this being included is an awesome feature. You can preview your animation and, if you like it, create an export of it to use in your edit.

There are a lot of tools that come with Movie Edit Pro Plus that I haven’t mentioned yet, like Beat Based editing which allows you to automate an edit along a beat in a song, recording your actual edit so that you can create tutorials or timelapses of your edit easily, chroma key effects to key out that greenscreen you shot on, 360 video creation and much more. In the end you can share your content using the Export Wizard to sites like YouTube or even your phone.

In the end, Magix Movie Edit Pro Plus is not a professional nonlinear editor. If you are looking for a Premiere Pro or FCPX replacement this isn’t it. This isn’t bad though; sometimes I need an app that does home movie type editing fast and easy with templates — this is where Movie Edit Pro Plus might fit in for you.

Check out their website for more features, including image stabilization powered by proDAD’s Mercalli V2 technology.

Review: NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 for editors

By Brady Betzel

Basic color correction is rapidly becoming a skill that is expected of an editor, or even an assistant editor. If you have had the luxury of using a colorist and/or an online editor, you have probably seen them use apps such as Blackmagic Resolve, Avid Symphony, FilmLight’s Baselight or other color grading tools. These systems have so many levels of intricacy that without years of experience in color correction, most editors’ knowledge starts at the beginning stage.

If you are an editor looking to do basic color correction, slight secondary correction and, maybe, even a creative grade, you probably want to stay inside of your NLE, whether it’s Adobe Premiere, Apple FCPX, Avid Media Composer, Magix Vegas, or even After Effects. This is where NewBlueFX’s latest color correction and grading plug-in comes into play.

Featuring over 60 different looks (sometimes referred to as creative LUTs or preset color grades), skin tone isolation and the ability to isolate regions of an image for the video scopes to analyze, New Blue ColorFast 2 is a modest color correction app without the overwhelming toolset of a full-fledged color correction application.

The Details
ColorFast 2 costs $99 and works in apps like Vegas Pro 10+, Resolve 11+, Premiere CS6/6.5/CC, After Effects 5+, FCPX, Media Composer/Symphony 6+ and Grass Valley Edius 7 and 8. If you are using apps like Resolve you probably would only use ColorFast 2 for its preset looks since you already have access to all of the color correction tools included in the plug-in — unless you like the region isolating feature for the video scopes, something I find really intriguing.

ColorFast2 RGB Scope and the Lumetri RGB scope.

Most people reading this review will probably want to know why they should buy ColorFast 2 when Premiere Pro has a lot of these features built into their Lumetri color correction tools. To be honest, there are only a few things that ColorFast 2 has that Premiere, or other apps for that matter, don’t have: region-controlled video scopes, skin color isolating and NewBlueFX’s color presets. You should really check out NewBlueFX’s product page for ColorFast 2 to see some more examples of the color presets and download a trial for yourself.

Right off the bat, I felt that stacking ColorFast 2 after the Lumetri color correction tools in the effects panel in Premiere is the proper order of operations. If you are familiar with LUTs and how the chain of command works, you probably have experimented with color correcting before and after the LUT is applied.

Typically, a LUT gives the colorist a good starting point to grade from, but these days you may see creative LUTs. If the creative LUT doesn’t quite look right you will want add color correction first in the chain of command and then the LUT. This is how I would work with ColorFast 2 and Lumetri color correction tools. You will be correcting the footage to work with your creative LUT instead of correcting the LUT, which most of the time will give you inadequate results. Long story short: stack your ColorFast 2 effect after Lumetri tools in the effects window and then fine-tune the Basic Correction settings with your ColorFast 2 preset to get a great color grade.

The ColorFast2 waveform with isolated scope region.

Video Scopes
I was excited to check out the video scopes inside of ColorFast 2, so I jumped to the bottom where the Region Scopes twirl-down menu is. Under that is the Video Scopes menu, which contains Vectorscope (Classic), Vectorscope (Color), Vectorscope (Sat, RGB Parade), Waveform and Histogram. The real beauty is that NewBlueFX gives you the ability to isolate a square region of your footage to be output through the video scope. This allows you to pinpoint your correction a little easier, and I really love this feature… but I also noticed that when you have both the Lumetri video scopes, as well as the ColorFast 2 scopes there is a discrepancy in values. I tended to like the Lumetri video scopes a little better. In fact, they go all the way up to 100, where the ColorFast 2 scopes only go up to 80 — this could very well be a bug in the compatibility between ColorFast 2 and the new Adobe Premiere CC 2015.4.

One issue I found with the ColorFast 2 scopes was that I couldn’t move the actual scope around or have more than one on at a time. While the region selection is an awesome feature, being able to see your full image is sometimes more important, so that is why I would probably stick to the NLEs built-in scopes.

Primary, Secondary, Output Correction Menus
Going back to the top of the ColorFast 2 Effect Editor menus, up first is the Primary Correction twirl-down menu. Here you can quickly white-balance your footage with an eyedropper, even keyframe it. In addition, you can adjust the White Strength, White Tweak (fine-tune control of the white color), Hue, Saturation, Exposure, Brightness and Film Gamma. A problem I encountered was that if you do a primary color correct on your image and then choose a color preset, all of your primary work gets reset, which is a real bummer if you want to correct and then grade your footage. So, if you want to work in ColorFast 2 in a more traditional way, where you color correct then color grade, you may want to do it in two separate effects. Moreover, you may want to primary color correct inside of the Lumetri tools then stack the ColorFast 2 on top.

Secondaries menu.

Next up is the Secondary Correction twirl-down menu, which gets you into the real meat and potatoes of the plug-in. There is a helpful “Show Mask” drop down that will allow you to isolate and view Highlights, Midtones, Shadows, Skin Color Mask and a Shape Mask. Inside each of these you can adjust Tint, Saturation, overall Level, and even enable and disable this secondary if you want. Further down in the secondary menu you can adjust the High, Mid and Shadow thresholds (basically transitions from high to mid or mid to shadow), and even the blending and spread.

While still in the secondary twirl-down menu you can jump into the Skin Mask, which will quickly help you identify skin color, soften imperfections and even help keep skin color fidelity while adjusting the rest of your image.

The last menu is the Output Correction twirl-down. Here you can do a widespread correction that lands after the fine-tuning. You can adjust overall Saturation, Exposure and Brightness.

Summing Up
In the end, I think ColorFast 2 is best suited for people who want a quick color grade by applying a preset look but who also want a little ability to fine-tune that look. ColorFast 2 has some pretty good-looking presets like Vintage, Fallout, Gotham and even some black and white presets like B&W Ink. It’s even more fun to go and purposely change your white balance to something crazy, like a deep purple, for interesting grades. You should definitely try NewBlueFX’s ColorFast 2 if you are looking for some additional creative grade looks while still being able to individually tweak the output.

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: DJI’s Phantom 4 drone

By Brady Betzel

I’ve been trying to get my hands on a professional drone to review for a few years now. My wife even got me a drone from a local store that was a ton of fun to play with but was hard to master.  For years, I’ve been working on television shows that use drone footage and capture incredible imagery, but it always seemed out of reach for me as an editor. Finally, after much persistence (or pestering, depending on who you ask), DJI agreed to send me the Phantom 4 to test out, and boy is it awesome!

By now you’ve probably made your way through the ubiquitous reviews, including the endless supply of YouTube reviews, but in that small chance you are reading this without much prior drone knowledge and work in production or post production, I have some ideas for you.

When reading this review, think about how you could take a drone, run outside and maybe grab some b-roll for something you are working on. If you create opening titles or sizzle reels, you could grab some great aerial shots or fast-paced shots to use as transitions. The possibilities are really endless, as long as you get your video picture settings dialed in.

Before I started as an online editor (which, for those who don’t know, focuses on the technical side of editing — color correction, grading, transcoding, outputting, exporting, anything that ends in “-porting” or “-linking” basically), I worked my way through being a post coordinator, post production supervisor and all the way to offline editor. One thing I noticed in many of the non-union live-to tape shows (like late night comedy or talk shows), is that the editor has a lot of freedom to be creative and can push the envelope a little.

Maybe the editor needs some b-roll for an edit that isn’t in the system, so as the post supervisor you might run out and shoot it yourself. Why not with a drone? If you need a quick aerial of a house from directly above, you might be able to get away with footage from your own drone, saving the project money while showing some talent that may get you more jobs in the future!

I really love the idea of people acquiring as much knowledge in different job positions as possible, whether you are in the craft service or executive producer, if you can do things like operate a camera, hold a boom mic or fly a drone, you will probably make a lasting impression and be known as someone who is hungry to work and to create a great end product, regardless of your position.

Fly Legally!
Not to be a total wet blanket and put a huge wrench in your drone flying, but there are some laws that recently have been passed (more like clarified) to standardize drone use between hobbyists and commercial fliers (basically someone who wants to make money from their footage). You should definitely check out the Federal Aviation Administration’s Getting Started page for more info.

closeup-cameraIf you are flying your drone for fun and as long as it is has the weight and footprint size of the DJI Phantom 4 — the weight is about 3lbs and it measures about 14 inches diagonally without propellers, which can add a couple of inches — there is minimal work that you need to do. However, if you are planning on making money from your drone footage, there are many steps you must take, including taking an official test. There is a a lot you need to know that is beyond the scope of this review, so definitely check out the FAA link above for more.

Easy to Use
Since I hadn’t flown a professional drone before I had nothing to compare it to, but I can tell you that I picked up the Phantom 4 and was flying it within five minutes. It really is that easy to get up and running.

Step 1, charge your remote and battery; Step 2, plug in your phone or tablet via USB to the remote; Step 3, attach propellers; Step 4, fly! You should probably boot up your Phantom before you go outside to check to make sure it is functional, and to update your firmware. As a side note, I’m not sure if I was up and running so quickly because the Phantom 4 I was loaned for review had been charged and used before, or if it was really that easy.

For this review, I really wanted to see how easy it was to get shots like wide sweeping pans and tilts or tracking shots, and it was relatively easy. Obviously, you will need to practice your camera work with the Phantom 4 to get nice shots that aren’t boring and have substance, but it’s pretty simple. I brought the Phantom 4 to an open field where I had tons and tons of space. I immediately turned on the Phantom 4 by pressing the power button once and then holding it down until it powered on, I forgot to download the DJI Go app to my iPhone 6, so after I downloaded it, I connected the USB to lightning cable from my iPhone 6 to the controller. While the iPhone 6 worked great, you do have minimal screen real estate with so many controls available, so I would suggest you use an iPad if you can or an iPhone 6 or 7 Plus. I tried using an iPad mini, but had trouble getting the Phantom 4 and the iPad to connect, so I stuck to the iPhone.

Once my propellers were spinning, I flew it straight up into the sky, I felt like a little kid with my first remote control car, except that the handling and precision that the Phantom 4 offers is exceptional. You can even take your hands off the joysticks and the Phantom 4 will hover. I noticed that once I got the Phantom 4 high in the air, I could hear it battle the winds. It really stuck to its position in the air even with some decent-strength gusts.

Collision Avoidance
When I took the Phantom 4 out for a second time, I wanted to test out its upgraded collision avoidance system. I also wanted to test out my camera moves. The collision avoidance was awesome! Not only does it sense the ground beneath it, but objects in front of it. I started flying toward a basketball hoop and it caught it in its sights and maneuvered to the right. Then, with just one prior flight, I noticed I was really getting the hang of long shots while tilting and panning the camera — a real testament to how easy it is to control.

Keep in mind that the DJI Go app has a built-in flight simulator to help you get your moves and techniques down before you go outside. Unfortunately, you have to be connected to your drone while using the flight simulator, but still it’s pretty handy for practicing — something you should definitely use before you fly, even if your pride is telling you not to.

Tech Specs
Beyond my pure joy at flying the Phantom 4 there are some fancy tech specs that you should know about. For my money, the DJI Phantom 4 really shows its worth in its camera, a 4K capable 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor, ISO range between 100-3,200 for video (100-1,600 for photos) and a shutter speed between eight seconds and 1/8000 of a second.

There are many different recording modes, including 4096×2160 (true 4K resolution) at 24/25 progressive frames per second, 3840×2160 (UHD) at 24/25/30p, 2704×1520 (2.7K) at 24/25/30p, 1920×1080 (HD) at 24/25/30/48/50/60/120p and 1280×720, for some reason, at 24/25/30/48/50/60p. All these resolutions are recorded at a max bit rate of 60Mbps, which is decent, but really should be higher in my opinion (probably more in the 100Mbps range).

In terms of image quality, the Phantom 4 is amazing for being a flying ship that captures video. However, it isn’t going to match cameras like the Sony a7S II, , Panasonic GH4 or Blackmagic Cinema Cameras, exactly. The Phantom 4 definitely rivals the GoPro Hero 5 Black in video quality, or at least gives them a good run for their money. The only problem is that the camera isn’t removable from the gimbal on the Phantom 4. I would really like a removable camera from the Phantom 4, much like the new GoPro Karma drone with its connection to the Karma Gimbal.

So after flying the Phantom 4 a few times I began to realize how volatile and important the picture and video profile settings are. The first time I recorded video I simply hit record. I was in Vivid mode, presumably at the baseline of Saturation, Sharpening and Contrast: 0,0,0. It looked great at first glance and for anyone who just wants to pick up the Phantom 4 and shoot you should probably just leave it at this or maybe knock the sharpness down to -1. If you plan on color correcting later or adding a creative LUT on top of your footage, then you are going to want a more flat-in-color image.

I thought the D-Log setting would be the way to go, as that should give you the flattest image in terms of saturation and exposure to pull the most life out of your image. Unfortunately, I found out that is not the case. I tried many variations of Saturation, Sharpness and Contrast from 0,0,0 to -3,-3,-3 and wasn’t really happy with any of them. After running through the usable color profiles (I’m omitting black and white and any other filters like that because you should really just go ahead and apply those looks while color correcting or editing since all NLEs have an easy way to add them), I found that D-Cinelike and None were the profiles I should really stay in, and I started to like Sharpness: -1, Contrast -2, and Saturation -2.

Before I go on about D-Cinelike and None, I think anyone buying a drone should consider ND filters (short for neutral density filters). When shooting outdoors you will get a lot of contrasting light values, such as dark shadows and blown out highlights. To get around having to pick your favorite, you can knock the exposure down on your camera externally with an ND filter while allowing you to keep your shutter speed and ISO values at more appropriate levels.

Without ND filters, you are going to have to ramp up the shutter speed on your Phantom 4 when filming using an ISO, such as 100, to properly expose your image, lending your footage to look a little choppier and less cinematic (I hate using the word cinematic to describe this, but essentially cinematic = motion blur in this instance).

If this sounds interesting to you, you should Google shutter speed techniques and rules, but be careful. It is a deep rabbit hole. From my simple research, I found ND filters ranging anywhere from $20 to $99 or more depending on quality and where you buy them. Polar Pro looks to make some sweet ones, including the Vivid Collection in their Cinema Series of polarized ND filters at $99 for a three-pack — another rabbit hole, be careful not to get G.A.S., Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Moving on… D-Cinelike and None are flat color profile shooting modes that allow for decent color grading in post production but with less midtone muddiness like the D-Log seemed to produce for me. D-Cinelike seemed to warm up the shot a little with more orange and yellow tints and possibly less shadow detail. In None, I felt like I got the flattest color profile possible, which allowed for the best color correction and grading scenario with the Phantom 4 footage. Don’t forget to dial in your custom picture profile settings. Personally, I liked the picture best when I knocked Sharpness down to -1 or -2. Contrast and Saturation could also be knocked down a little, but this is something you should test when you buy a Phantom 4, since it is definitely a personal taste.

If you go on YouTube and search Phantom 4 color settings you will find a lot of videos. You should probably sort by upload date and watch the more recent videos that might take into account firmware updates. I really liked watching Bill Nichol’s YouTube Channel BillNicholsTV. He has a bunch of great and practical reviews.

You should still try out the Phantom 4’s D-Log mode. Hopefully, it works for you better than it did for me. If you use Blackmagic Resolve, you can check out DJI’s D-Log to sRGB LUT instructions and find the LUT under the software downloads here.

While I didn’t want to get too deep into the technical side of the Phantom 4, I did fall down the picture profile settings abyss and still want to highlight some automated flight modes that the Phantom 4 excels at. Some of the new features that separate the Phantom 4 from previous Phantom models include Active Track, TapFly, Obstacle Sensing System, Sport Mode, easier-to-use push and release propellers, up to 28-minute battery life (although I only got between 20-22 minutes with the Phantom 4 automatically returning to home when the battery was running low), improved camera with less chromatic aberration, and much more.

New Features That Editors Will Like
I now want to touch on the upgraded features that would get me, as an editor, interested in the Phantom 4. Active Track is an amazing feature that can track objects specified through the DJI Go app. You simply click the object or person you want to track and bam! The Phantom 4 will follow them from what DJI calls a “safe distance,” and it really is.

TapFly is another great feature that will help pilots who aren’t as comfortable flying in tight spaces to fly in a straight line. Simply tap the remote icon on your phone or tablet, tap TapFly, click on a visual point you want the Phantom 4 to fly to, and it will basically move into autopilot. You still have control over camera and even the Phantom 4, but it’s basically a coached flying system.

Again, there are a lot of technical specs I didn’t go into too much detail on, but if you want more info you can find it on DJI’s Phantom 4 page. For some simple and short videos check out: http://www.dji.com/edu/edu_videos or download the DJI Go app.

Summing Up
In the end, I really, really, really loved flying the Phantom 4! One of the easiest parts was installing the propellers — easy turn and lock. If you find yourself getting frustrated when filming or flying the Phantom 4, remember that it takes people many hours to get good at shooting with a camera, let alone a drone, with a camera and gimbal to control all at once. I spent many nights watching YouTuber’s reviews wondering why I couldn’t get a great picture out of the D-Log setting until I found Casey Faris’ video on the Mavic Pro, which described the same problem I was having with the Phantom 4. With some more tests, I was able to fail and succeed in the different picture profiles.

When reviewing products, I try to break them, and I did that with the Phantom 4. Really. I accidentally crashed it while in Sport mode and only one of the propellers caps flew off in that yard sale — a real testament to the sturdy construction of the Phantom 4.

Once back online, I tried to fly it into a tree but the Obstacle Sensing System and the Forward Vision System prevented the Phantom 4 from crashing. It’s like an extra layer of insurance.

I really like how the Phantom 4 has very advanced controls and features, but is also “dummy” proof. If I you’re editing a project and it begs for a tracking shot of a car that just isn’t in the dailies, you can grab a Phantom 4 and run out and film something. Even if it doesn’t make it into the final edit, it will give the producers and director a greater sense of what you are trying to convey. You could really help sell your vision, and your future job prospects.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on the recently announced MavicPro foldable drone from DJI, but I was able to get the recently announced GoPro Karma (you can see some of my in-flight footage on my  YouTube page.

In my opinion, I really don’t think these drones compare to one another, so I won’t really be going into a “tit for tat” comparison, but with so much drone competition it is an exciting time in the UAV world.

One thing I did notice when I went out to test out the Phantom 4 was how many people were ready to become FAA/police authorities and tell you that you can’t fly. It was almost laughable. In fact, every time I think about it I laugh. Moral of the story is to keep that in mind that before making a purchase like this, if you live in a city you probably live within five miles of an airport, helipad, etc., and technically you can’t fly your drone. It is a conversation starter whether or not you want it to be.

Definitely check out the FAA’s website to get the rules on where and when you can fly drones, otherwise you might have an awesome grey box in your room with nowhere to fly. On the flip side, I’ve been reading people’s comments on forums, and if you are a hobbyist flyer, have registered your drone and want to fly, you can contact your local airport and let them know you want to fly at a certain altitude or below, and they usually will say it’s fine. Those aren’t my words but a summation of what I have been reading — of course do your own research please!

The only criticism is that the Phantom 4’s 60Mbps data rate isn’t high enough to get the best quality footage from your drone. If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately or my Twitter: @allbetzroff, you may have seen DJI’s latest reveal of the Phantom 4 Pro, Pro + and Inspire 2, which can film at a much better data rate of 100Mbps. Maybe this is a simple firmware update to the Phantom 4 (but it’s probably not). Nonetheless, 60Mbps is acceptable for 1920×1080 or maybe 2.7K video (2704 x 1524,16×9 aspect ratio) or below, but once you get up into the higher frame sizes, you can really see the video footage breakdown. If you zoom into the footage, the compression becomes noticeable and the color fidelity begins to fade.

While writing this review, the DJI Phantom 4 retailed for $1,199 on the DJI online store without any accessories. More like $1399 with two extra batteries and an external battery charger. I even just found a refurbished Phantom 4 on DJI’s site for $899. The Phantom 4 Pro starts at $1,499 and Phantom 4 Pro + $1,799. Oh yeah, don’t forget a few 64GB MicroSD cards at $20-$35 a piece. A pretty expensive investment if you ask me, but If you find yourself being a major gear nerd like me or editing and needing to shoot your own footage, the DJI Phantom 4 is a must-have. Once you fly the Phantom 4 you will be hooked.

Watch some of the video I shot with the Phantom 4 on my YouTube Channel:

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: The HP Z1G3 All-in-One workstation

By Brady Betzel

I’ll admit it. I’ve always been impressed with HP’s All-in-One workstations — from their z840 to their zBook mobile workstation and now their HP Z1G3. Yes, I know, the HP line of workstations are not cheap. In fact, you can save quite a bit of money building your own system, but you will probably have tons of headaches unless you are very confident in your computer-building skills. And if you don’t mind standing in the return line at the Fry’s Electronics.

HP spends tons of time and money on ISV certifications for their workstations. ISV certification stands for Independent Software Vendor certification. In plain English it means that HP spends a lot of time and money making sure the hardware inside of your workstation works with the software you use. For an industry pro that means apps like Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk products like 3DS Max and many others.

For this review,  I tested apps like Avid Media Composer, FilmLight’s Baselight for Media Composer color correction plug-in, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe After Effects, as well as Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2, which chewed through basic color correction. In terms of testing time, I typically keep a review computer system for a couple of months, but with this workstation I really wanted to test it as thoroughly as possible — I’ve had the workstation for three months and counting, and I’ve been running the system through all the appropriate paces.

I always love to review workstations like the HP Z1G3 because of the raw power they possess. While HP sent me one of the top-of-the-line Z1G3 configurations, which retails for a list price of $3,486, they have a pretty reasonable starting price at $1,349. From Intel i3, i5 and i7 configurations all the way up to the all mighty Intel Xeon — the HP Z1G3 can be customized to fit into your workflow whether you just need to check your email or color correct video from your GoPro.

Here are the specs that make up the HP Z1G3 All-in-One workstation I received:

● 23.6-inch UHD/4K non-glare and non-touch display (3840×2160)
● Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 CPU, 3.6GHz (4 Cores / 8 Threads)
● 64GB DDR4 SODIMM 2133 GHz (4 x 16GB)
● Nvidia Quadro M2000M graphics (4GB)
● Two Z Turbo drives (512GB, PCIe M.2)
● Wireless keyboard and mouse
● Two Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 ports
● USB charging port
● Media card reader
● DisplayPort out

As I mentioned earlier, I tested the Z1G3 with many different apps, but recently I’ve been diving deeper into color correction, and luckily for my testing this fits right in. A few of the most strenuous real-world tests for computer systems is running 3D modeling apps like Maxon Cinema 4D and color correction suites like Resolve. Of course, apps like After Effects are great tests as well, but adding nodes on nodes on nodes in Resolve will really tax your CPU, as well as your GPU.

One thing that can really set apart high-end systems like the Z1G3 is the delay when using a precision color correction panel like Tangent’s Elements or Ripple. Sometimes you will move one of the color wheel balls and a half a second later the color wheel moves on screen. I tried adding a few clips and nodes on the timeline and when using the panels, I noticed no discernible delay (at least more than what I would expect). While this isn’t a scientific test, it is crucial for folks looking to plug in external devices.

For more scientific tests I stuck to apps like Cinebench from Maxon, AJA’s System Test and Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test. In Cinebench, the Z1G3 ranked at the top of the list when compared to similar systems. In AJA’s System Test I tested the read/write speed of the hp-z1g3-aja-system-test-copynon-OS drive (basically the editing or cache drive). It sustained around 1520MB/s read and 1490MB/s write. I say around because I couldn’t get the AJA app to display the entire read/write numbers because of the high-resolution/zoom in Windows, I tried scaling it down to 1920×1080 but no luck. In Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test, I was running at 1560MB/s read and 1497.3MB/s write. The drive that I ran this test on is HP’s version of the M.2 PCIe SSD powered by Samsung, more affectionately known by HP as a Z-Turbo drive. The only thing better at the moment would be a bunch of these drives arranged in a RAID-0 configuration. Luckily, you can do that through the Thunderbolt 3 port with some spare SSDs you have lying around.

Almost daily I ran Premiere Pro CC, Media Encoder and Resolve Studio 12.5.2. I was really happy with the performance in Premiere. When working with QuickTimes in inter-frame codecs like H.264 and AVC-HD (non-edit friendly codecs), I was able to work without too much stuttering in the timeline. When I used intra-frame codecs like ProRes HQ from a Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera, Premiere worked great. I even jumped into Adobe’s Lumetri color tools while using Tangent’s Ripple external color correction panel and it worked with little discernable delay. I did notice that Premiere had a little more delay when using the external color correction panel than Media Composer and Resolve, but that seemed to be more of a software problem rather than a workstation problem.

One of my favorite parts about using a system with an Nvidia graphics card, especially a Quadro card like the M2000M, is the ability to encode multiple versions of a file at once. Once I was done editing some timelapses in Premiere, I exported using Media Encoder. I would apply three presets I made: one square 600×600 H.264 for Instagram, one 3840×2160 H.264 for YouTube and an Animated GIF at 480×360 for Twitter. Once I told Media Encoder to encode, it ran all three exports concurrently — a really awesome feature. With the Nvidia Quadro card installed, it really sped along the export.

Media Composer
Another app I wanted to test was Media Composer 8.6.3. Overall Media Composer ran great except for the high-resolution display. As I’ve said in previous reviews, this isn’t really the fault of HP, but more of the software manufacturers who haven’t updated their interfaces to adapt to the latest UHD displays. I had filmed a little hike I took with my five-year-old. I gave him a GoPro while I had my own. Once we got the footage back home, I imported it into Media Composer, grouped the footage and edited it using the multi-cam edit workflow.

Simply put, the multi-camera split was on the left and the clip I had in the sequence was playing simultaneously on the right. Before I grouped the footage into a multi-group, I transcoded the H.264s into DNxHD 175 an intra-frame, edit-friendly codec. The transcode was nearly realtime, so it took 60 minutes to transcode a 60-minute H.264 — which is not bad. In the end, I was able to edit the two-camera multi-group at 1920×1080 resolution with only minor hiccups. Occasionally, I would get caught in fast forward for a few extra seconds when J-K-L editing, but nothing that made me want to throw my keyboard or mouse against the wall.

Once done editing, I installed the FilmLight color correction plug-in for Media Composer. I had a really awesome experience coloring using Baselight in Media Composer on the Z1G3. I didn’t have any slowdowns, and the relationship between using the color correction panel and Baselight was smooth.

Resolve
The last app I tested with HP’s Z1G3 All-in-One Workstation was Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2. Much like my other tests, I concentrated on color correction with the Tangent Ripple and Element-Vs iOS app. I had four or five nodes going in the color correction page before I started to see a slow down. I was using the native H.264 and ProRes HQ files from the cameras, so I didn’t make it easy for Resolve, but it still worked. Once I added a little sharpening to my clips, the HP Z1G3 really started to kick into gear. I heard the faint hum of fans, which up until this point hadn’t kicked in. This is also where the system started to slow down and become sluggish.

Summing Up
The Z1G3 is one of my favorite workstations, period. A while ago, I reviewed the previous All-in-One workstation from HP, the Z1G2, and at the time it was my favorite. One of my few complaints was that, while it was easy to fix, it was very heavy and bulky. When I opened the Z1G3 box, I immediately noticed how much lighter and streamlined the design was. It almost felt like they took away 50 percent of the bulk, which is something I really appreciate. I can tell that one of the main focuses with the Z1G3 was minimizing its footprint and weight, while increasing the power. HP really knocked it out of the park.

One of the only things that I wish was different on the Z1G3 I tested was the graphics card. While the Nvidia Quadro M2000M is a great graphics card, it is a “mobile” version of a Quadro, which has 128 fewer CUDA cores and 26GB/s less bandwidth than its desktop equivalent the M2000. I would love the option of a full-sized Quadro and instead of the mobile version but I also understand the power consumption will go up as well as the form factor, so maybe I give HP a pass here.

In the end, I know everyone reading this review is saying to themselves, “I love my iMac so why would I want the HP Z1G3?” If you are a die-hard Apple user, or you just saw the new Microsoft Surface Studio announcement, then it might be a hard sell, but I love both Windows- and Mac OS-based systems, and the Z1G3 is awesome. What’s even more awesome is that it is easily upgradeable. I took off the back cover, and with simple switch I could have added a 2.5-inch hard drive or two in under a minute. If you are looking for a new powerful workstation and want one that not only stands up to Resolve and Premiere Pro CC, the HP Z1G3 is for you.


Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Review: Red Giant’s Universe 2

By Brady Betzel

Throughout 2016, we have seen some interesting acquisitions in the world of post production software and hardware — Razer bought THX, Blackmagic bought Ultimatte and Fairlight and Boris FX bought GenArts, to name a few. We’ve also seen a tremendous consolidation of jobs. Editors are now being tasked as final audio mixers, final motion graphics creators, final colorists and much more.

Personally, I love doing more than just editing, so knowing tools like Adobe After Effects and DaVinci Resolve, in addition to Avid Media Composer, has really helped me become not only an editor but someone who can jump into After Effects or Resolve and do good work.

hudUnfortunately, for some people it is the nature of the post beast to know everything. Plug-ins play a gigantic part in balancing my workload, available time and the quality of the final product. If I didn’t have plug-ins like Imagineer’s Mocha Pro, Boris’s Continuum Complete, GenArt’s Sapphire and Red Giant’s Universe 2, I would be forced to turn down work because the time it would take to create a finished piece would outweigh the fee I would be able to charge a client.

A while back, I reviewed Red Giant’s Universe when it was in version 1, (check it out here). In the beginning Universe allowed for lifetime, annual and free memberships. It seems the belt has tightened a little for Red Giant as Universe 2 is now $99 a year, $20 a month or a 14-day free trial. No permanent free version or lifetime memberships are offered (if you downloaded the free Universe before June 28, you will still be able to access those free plug-ins in the Legacy group). Moreover, they have doubled the monthly fee from $10 to $20 — definitely trying to get everyone on to the annual subscription train.

Personally, I think this resulted from too much focus on the broad Universe, trying to jam in as many plug-ins/transitions/effects as possible and not working on specific plug-ins within Universe. I actually like the renewed focus of Red Giant toward a richer toolset as opposed to a full toolset.

Digging In
Okay, enough of my anecdotal narrative and on to some technical awesomeness. Red Giant’s Universe 2 is a vast plug-in collection that is compatible with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects CS6-CC 2015.3; Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.0.9 and later; Apple Motion 5.0.7 and later; Vegas 12 and 13; DaVinci Resolve 11.1 and later; and HitFilm 3 and 4 Pro. You must have a compatible GPU installed as Universe does not have a CPU fallback plan for unsupported machines. Basically you must have 2GB or higher GPU, and don’t forget about Intel as their graphic support has improved a lot lately. For more info on OS compatibility and specific GPU requirements, check out Red Giant’s compatibility page.

Universe 2 is loaded with great plug-ins that, once you dig in, you will want to use all the time. For instance, I really like the ease of use of Universe’s RGB Separation and Chromatic Glow. If you want a full rundown of each and every effect you should download the Universe 2 trial and check this out. In this review I am only going to go over some of the newly added plug-ins — HUD Components,  Line, Logo Motion and Color Stripe — but remember there are a ton more.

I will be bouncing around different apps like Premiere Pro and After Effects. Initially I wanted to see how well Universe 2 worked inside of Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12.5.2. Resolve gave me a little trouble at first; it began by crashing once I clicked on OpenFX in the Color page. I rebooted completely and got the error message that the OpenFX had been disabled. I did a little research (and by research I mean I typed ”Disabled OpenFX Resolve” into Google), and  stumbled on a post on Blackmagic’s Forum that suggested deleting “C:\ProgramData\Blackmagic Design\Davinci Resolve\Support\OFXPluginCache.xml” might fix it. Once I deleted that and rebooted Resolve, I clicked on the OpenFX tab in the Color Page, waited 10 minutes, and it started working. From that point on it loaded fast. So, barring the Resolve installation hiccup, there were no problems installing in Premiere and After Effects.

Once installed, you will notice that Universe has a few folders inside of your plug-in’s drop down: Universe Blur, Universe Distort, Universe Generators, Universe Glow, Universe Legacy, Universe Motion Graphics, Universe Stylize and Universe Utilities. You may recognize some of these if you have used an earlier version of Universe, but something you will not recognize is that each Universe plug-in now has a “uni.” prefix.

I am still not sure whether I like this or hate this. On one hand it’s easy to search for if you know exactly what you want in apps like Premiere. On the other hand it runs counterintuitive to what I am used to as a grouchy old editor. In the end, I decided to run my tests in After Effects and Premiere. Resolve is great, but for tracking a HUD in 3D space I was more comfortable in After Effects.

HUD Components
First up is HUD Components, located under the Universe Motion Graphics folder and labeled: “uni.HUD Components.” What used to take many Video CoPilot tutorials and many inspirational views of HUD/UI master Jayse Hansen’s (@jayse_) work, now takes me minutes thanks to the new HUD components. Obviously, to make anything on the level of a master like Jayse Hansen will take hundreds of hours and thousands of attempts, but still — with Red Giant HUD Components you can make those sci-fi in-helmet elements quickly.

When you apply HUD Components to a solid layer in After Effects you can immediately see the start of your HUD. To see what the composite over my footage would look like, I went to change the blend mode to Add, which is listed under “Composite Settings.” From there you can see some awesome pre-built looks under the Choose a Preset button. The pre-built elements are all good starting points, but I would definitely dive further into customizing, maybe layer multiple HUDs over each other with different Blend Modes, for example.

Diving further into HUD Components, there are four separate “Elements” that you can customize, each with different images, animations, colors, clone types, and much more. One thing to remember is that when it comes to transformation settings and order of operations work from the top down. For instance, if you change the rotation on element one, it will affect each element under it, which is kind of handy if you ask me. Once you get the hang of how HUD Components works, it is really easy to make some unique UI components. I really like to use the uni.Point Zoom effect (listed under Universe Glow in the Effects & Presets); it gives you a sort of projector-like effect with your HUD component.

There are so many ways to use and apply HUD Components in everyday work, from building dynamic lower thirds with all of the animatable arcs, clones and rotations to building sci-fi elements, applying Holomatrix to it and even Glitch to create awesome motion graphics elements with multiple levels of detail and color. I did try using HUD Components in Resolve when tracking a 3D object but couldn’t quite get the look I wanted, so I ditched it and used After Effects.

Line
Second up is the Line plug-in. While drawing lines along a path in After Effects isn’t necessarily hard, it’s kind of annoying — think having to make custom map graphics to and from different places daily. Line takes the hard work out of making line effects to and from different points. This plug-in also contains the prefix uni. and is located under Universe Motion Graphics labeled uni.Line.

This plug-in is very simple to use and animate. I quickly found a map, applied uni.Line, placed my beginning and end points, animated the line using two keyframes under “Draw On” and bam! I had an instant travel-vlog style graphic that showed me going from California to Australia in under three minutes (yes, I know three minutes seems a little fast to travel to Australia but that’s really how long it took, render and all). Under the Effect Controls you can find preset looks, beginning and ending shape options like circles or arrows, line types, segmented lines and curve types. You can even move the peak of the curve under bezier style option.

Logo Motion
Third is Logo Motion, located under Universe Motion Graphics titled uni.LogoMotion. In a nutshell you can take a pre-built logo (or anything for that matter), pre-compose it, throw the uni.LogoMotion effect on top, apply a preset reveal, tweak your logo animation, dynamically adjust the length of your pre-comp — which directly affects the logo’s wipe on and off — and, finally, render.

This is another plug-in that makes my life as an editor who dabbles in motion graphics really easy. Red Giant even included some lower third animation presets that help create dynamic lower third movements. You can select from some of the pre-built looks, add some motion while the logo is “idle,” adjust things like rotation, opacity and blur under the start and end properties, and even add motion blur. The new preset browser in Universe 2 really helps with plug-ins like Logo Motion where you can audition animations easily before applying them. You can quickly add some life to any logo or object with one or two clicks; if you want to get detailed you can dial in the idle animation and/or transition settings.

Color Stripe
Fourth is Color Stripe, a transition that uses color layers to wipe across and reveal another layer. This one is a pretty niche case use, but is still worth mentioning. In After Effects. transitions are generally a little cumbersome. I found the Universe 2 transitions infinitely easier to use in NLEs like Adobe Premiere. From the always-popular swish pan to exposure blur, there are some transitions you might use once or some you might use a bunch. Color Stripe is a transition that you probably won’t want to use too often, but when you do need it, it will be right at your fingertips. You can choose from different color schemes like analogous, tetradic, or even create a custom scheme to match your project.

In the end, Universe 2 has some effects that are essential once you begin using them, like uni.Unmult, uni.RGB Separation and the awesome uni.Chromatic Glow. The new ones are great too, I really like the ease of use of uni.HUD Components. Since these effects are GPU accelerated you might be surprised at how fast and fluid they work in your project without slowdowns. For anyone who likes apps like After Effects, but can’t afford to spend hours dialing in the perfect UI interface and HUD, Universe 2 is perfect for you. Check out all of the latest Red Giant Universe 2 tools here.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Review: Tangent Ripple color correction panel

By Brady Betzel

Lately, it feels like a lot of the specializations in post production are becoming generalized and given to the “editor.” One of the hats that the editor now wears is that of color corrector — I’m not saying we are tasked with color grading an entire film, but we are asked to make things warmer or cooler or to add saturation.

With the standard Wacom tablet, keyboard and/or mouse combo, it can get a little tedious when color correcting — in Adobe Premiere, Blackmagic Resolve or Avid Media Composer/Symphony — without specialized color correction panels like the Baselight Blackboard, Resolve Advanced, Nucoda Precision, Avid Artist Color or even Tangent’s Element. In addition, those specialized panels run between $1,000 per piece to upwards of $30,000, leaving many people to fend for themselves using a mouse.

While color correcting with a mouse isn’t always horrible, once you use a proper color correction panel, you will always feel like you are missing a vital tool. But don’t worry! Tangent has released a new color correction panel that is not only affordable and compatible with many of today’s popular coloring and nonlinear editing apps, but is also extremely portable: the Tangent Ripple.

For this review I am covering how the Tangent Ripple works inside of Premiere Pro CC 2015.3, Filmlight’s Baselight Media Composer/Symphony plug-in and Resolve 12.5.

One thing I always found intimidating about color correction and grading apps like Resolve was the abundance of options to correct or grade an image. The Tangent Ripple represents the very basic first steps in the color correction pipeline: color balancing using lift, gamma, gain (or shadows, midtones and highlights) and exposure/contrast correction. I am way over-simplifying these first few steps but these are what the Ripple specializes in.

You’ve probably heard of the Tangent Element Panels, which go way beyond the basics — if you start to love grading with the Tangent Ripple or the Element-VS app, the Element set should be your next step. It retails for around $3,500, or a little below as a set (you can purchase the Element panels individually for cheaper, but the set is worth it). The Tangent Ripple retails for only $350.

Basic Color Correction
If you are an offline editor who wants to add life to your footage quickly, basic color correction is where you will be concentrating, and the Ripple is a tool you need to purchase. Whether you color correct your footage for cuts that go to a network executive, or you are the editor and finisher on a project and want to give your footage the finishing touch, you should check out what a little contrast, saturation and exposure correction can do.

panelYou can find some great basic color correcting tutorials on YouTube, Lynda.com and color correction-focused sites like MixingLight.com. On YouTube, Casey Faris has some quick and succinct color correction tutorials, check him out here. Ripple Training also has some quick Resolve-focused tips posted somewhat weekly by Alexis Van Hurkman.

When you open the Tangent Ripple box you get an instruction manual, the Ripple, three track balls and some carrying pouches to keep it all protected. The Ripple has a five-foot USB cable hardwired into it, but the track balls are separate and do not lock into place. If you were to ask a Ripple user to tell you the serial number on the bottom of the Ripple, most likely they will turn it over, dropping all the trackballs. Obviously, this could wreck the trackballs and/or injure someone, so don’t do it, but you get my point.

The Ripple itself is very simple in layout: three trackballs, three dials above the trackballs, “A” and “B” buttons and revert buttons next to the dials. That is it! If you are looking for more than that, you should take a look at the Element panels.

After you plug in the Ripple to an open USB port, you probably should download the Tangent Hub software. This will also install the Tangent Mapper, which allows you to customize your buttons in apps like Premiere Pro. Unfortunately, Resolve and the Media Composer Baselight plug-in do not allow for customization, but when you install the software you get a nice HUD that signals what service each Ripple button and knob does in the software you are using.

If you are like me and your first intro into the wonderful world of color correction in an NLE was Avid Symphony, you might have also encountered the Avid Artist Color panel, which is very similar in functionality: three balls and a couple of knobs. Unfortunately, I found that the Artist Color never really worked like it should within Symphony. Here is a bit of interesting news: while you can’t use the Ripple in the native Symphony color corrector, you can use external panels in the Baselight Avid plug-in! Finally a solution! It is really, really responsive to the Tangent Ripple too! The Ripple really does work great inside of a Media Composer plug-in.

The Ripple was very responsive, much more than what I’ve experienced with the Avid Artist Color panel. As I mentioned earlier, the Ripple will accomplish the basics of color correcting — you can fix color balance issues and adjust exposure. It does a few things well, and that is it. To my surprise, when I added a shape (a mask used in color correction) in Baselight, I was able to adjust the size, points and position of the shape using the Ripple. In the curves dialogue I was able to add, move and adjust points. Not only does Baselight change the game for powerful, in-Avid color correction, but it is a tool like the Ripple that puts color correction within any editor’s grasp. I was really shocked at how well it worked.

When using the Ripple in Resolve you get what Resolve wants to give you. The Ripple is great for basic corrections inside of Resolve, but if you want to dive further into the awesomeness of color correction, you are going to want to invest in the Tangent Element panels.

With the Ripple inside of Resolve, you get the basic lift, gamma and gain controls along with the color wheels, a bypass button and reset buttons for each control. The “A” button doesn’t do anything, which is kind of funny to me. Unlike the Baselight Avid plug-in, you cannot adjust shapes, or do much else with the Ripple panel other than the basics.

Element-Vs
Another option that took me by surprise was Tangent iOS and the Android app Element-Vs. I expected this app to really underwhelm me but I was wrong. Element-Vs acts as an extension of your Ripple — based off the Tangent Element panels. But keep in mind, it’s still an app and there is nothing comparable to the tactile feeling and response you get from a panel like the Ripple or Elements. Nonetheless, I did use the Element-Vs app on an iPad Mini and it was surprisingly great.

It is a bit high priced for an app, coming in at around $100, but I was able to get a really great response when cycling through the different Element “panels,” leading me to think that the Ripple and Element-Vs app combo is a real contender for the prosumer colorist. At a total of $450 ($350 for the Ripple and $100 for the Element-Vs app), you are in the same ballpark as a colorist who has a $3,000-plus set of panels.

As I said earlier, the Element panels have a great tactile feel and feedback that, at the moment, is hard to compare to an app, but this combo isn’t as shabby as I thought it would be. A welcome surprise was that the installation and connection were pretty simple too.

Premiere Pro
The last app I wanted to test was Premiere Pro CC. Recently, Adobe added external color panel support in version 2015.3 or above. In fact, Premiere has the most functionality and map-ability out of all the apps I tested — it was an eye-opening experience for me. When I first started using the Lumetri color correction tools inside of Premiere I was a little bewildered and lost as the set-up was different from what I was used to in other color correction apps.

I stuck to basic color corrections inside of Premiere, and would export an XML or flat QuickTime file to do more work inside of Resolve. Using the Ripple with Premiere changed how I felt about the Lumetri color correction features. When you open Premiere Pro CC 2015.3 along with the Tangent Mapper, the top row of tabs opens up. You can customize not only the standard functions of the Ripple within each Lumetri panel, like Basic, Creative, Curves, Color Wheels, HSL Secondaries and Vignette, but you can also create an alternate set of functions when you press the “A” button.

In my opinion, the best button press for the Ripple is the “B” button, which cycles you through the Lumetri panels. In the panel Vignette, the Ripple gives you options like Vignette Amount, Vignette Midpoint, feather and Vignette Roundness.

As a side note, one complaint I have about the Ripple is that there isn’t a dedicated “bypass” button. I know that each app has different button designations and that Tangent wants to keep the Ripple as simple as possible, but many people constantly toggle the bypass function.

Not all hope is lost, however. Inside of Premiere, if you hold the “A” button for alternate mapping and hit the “B” button, you will toggle the bypass off and on. While editing in Premiere, I used the Ripple to do color adjustments even when the Lumetri panel wasn’t on screen. I could cycle through the different Lumetri tabs, make adjustments and continue to edit using keyboard functions fast — an awesome feature both Tangent and Adobe should be promoting more, in my opinion.

It seems Tangent worked very closely with Adobe when creating the Ripple. Maybe it is just a coincidence, but it really feels like this is the Adobe Premiere Pro CC Tangent Ripple. Of course, you can also use the Element-Vs app in conjunction with the Ripple, but in Premiere I would say you don’t need it. The Ripple takes care of almost everything for you.

One drawback I noticed when using the Ripple and Element-Vs inside of Premiere Pro was a small delay when compared to using these inside of Resolve and Baselight’s Media Composer plug-in. Not a huge delay, but a slight hesitation — nothing that would make me not buy the Ripple, but something you should know.

Summing Up
Overall, I really love the Ripple color correction panel from Tangent. At $350, there is nothing better. The Ripple feels like it was created for editors looking to dive deep into Premiere’s Lumetri color controls and allows you to be more creative because of it.

Physically, the Ripple has a lighter and more plastic-type of feel than its Element Tk panel brother, but it still works great. If you need something light and compact, the Ripple is a great addition to your Starbuck’s-based color correction set-up.

I do wish there was a little more space between the trackballs and the rotary dials. When using the dials, I kept nudging the trackballs and sometimes I didn’t even realize what had happened. However, since the Ripple is made to be compact, lightweight, mobile and priced to beat every other panel on the market, I can forgive this.

It feels like Tangent worked really hard to make the Ripple feel like a natural extension of your keyboard. I know I sound like a broken record, but saving time makes me money, and the Tangent Ripple color correction panel saves me time. If you are an editor that has to color correct and grade dailies, an assistant editor looking to up their color correction game or just an all-around post production ninja who dabbles in different areas of expertise, the Tangent Ripple is the next tool you need to buy.


Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.