Tag Archives: Brady Betzel

Review: Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite: Looks 4 and Colorist IV

By Brady Betzel

Color grading is an art unto itself. A dedicated colorist can make your footage look so good, your response upon seeing it will likely be, “I had no idea it could look like this.”

Unfortunately, as an editor you don’t have the opportunity to spend 10 hours a day honing the craft of color correction. You don’t sit in front of high-end color correction panels while surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of equipment whose reason for being is taking everyday footage and pulling peoples’ minds inside out.

Even with Blackmagic’s free version of DaVinci Resolve out in the wild, color correction is a skill that takes a lot of time to hone. Don’t fool yourself, one, two or three years doesn’t really even scratch the surface of the dedication you need to dive into the dark art of color correction, and most color correction artists are more than willing to tell you that. Hopefully, that doesn’t discourage you on your journey to becoming a color master, because it is an awesome career in my opinion. I mean how many people get to play with what are essentially digital crayons all day and get paid to do it?

For those who don’t have hundreds of hours to learn the magic of apps like Resolve, Pablo Rio and Baselight, or even color correction inside of an NLE like Avid Symphony or Adobe Premiere for that matter — you still have the ability to create stunning footage with plug-ins like Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite.

The Magic Bullet Suite is a set of color correction and video finishing plug-ins that work in multiple multimedia apps like Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects, and some even work inside of Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Resolve and Avid Media Composer/Symphony.

If you’ve been around editing for a while, you’ve probably heard of Magic Bullet Looks; it’s one of the most common color correction plug-ins that people use to quickly and easily color correct and grade their footage. The full contents in Magic Bullet Suite 13 include Magic Bullet Looks, Magic Bullet Colorista IV, Magic Bullet Film, Magic Bullet Cosmo II, Magic Bullet Denoiser III, Magic Bullet Mojo II and Magic Bullet Denoiser. While all of these Magic Bullet plug-ins can be purchased separately, they are available as a suite for $899 as well as at an academic price of $449. There is also an upgrade price of $299 if you are a previous version user.

Magic Bullet Suite 13 has been overhauled, with one of the biggest additions being OpenGL and OpenCL support, allowing incredible speed gains. In this review, I am going to provide a plug-in-by-plug-in review, so you can see if $899 is an investment you should make. Up first is the heavy hitter of the suite: Magic Bullet Looks.

Magic Bullet Looks
At $399, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is just one piece of the Magic Bullet Suite 13 set, but it’s probably the most well known. Looks is a color correction plug-in that works with most major nonlinear editing apps, including Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC, Final Cut Pro X 10.2.3 and up, Apple Motion 5.2.3 and up, Magix Vegas Pro 14, Avid Media Composer 8.5-8.7, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5, Edius 8.2 and Hit Film Pro 2017.

Essentially, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is a color correction plug-in that you would typically start with a preset correction or grade that Looks has built in. Think of it like a set of over 200 color grading LUTs (Look-Up Tables) that can be finessed, changed and layered — from there you can add vignetting, video noise or even one of my favorites: chromatic aberration.

There are a few new updates in Looks 4 that make this version the one to purchase. Version 3 had GPU acceleration, but Version 4 includes OpenCL- and OpenGL-compatibility for better realtime playback with color graded footage; the Renoiser Tool which can help to add video noise or film grain back into denoised footage; and my favorite technical feature that I hope other apps include — the ability to resize the color scopes and even zoom into the Hue/Saturation scope.

While using Magic Bullet Looks, I discovered just how easy Red Giant made it to add a “look” to footage, add some grain and a vignette and then export. While the Lumetri Color tools in Premiere Pro CC were a great addition, they left some things to be desired, and in my opinion, Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks picks up where Premiere’s Lumetri Color tools left off. To apply Magic Bullet Looks 4, you can find it in the Effects drop-down under Video Effects > Magic Bullet > Looks, scrub over to the Effect Controls window and click on “Edit Look.” From there you will be launched into the Magic Bullet Looks plugin GUI. Before you get started it might be handy to open up the Magic Bullet Looks user guide, especially the keyboard shortcuts.

To try out Magic Bullet Looks, I had some Sony a6300 footage lying around waiting to be color corrected. Once inside of the Magic Bullet Looks’ GUI I saw another new feature called the Source tool, which quickly allows you to specify if you are working with Log, flat or video footage — basically, a quick LUT to get you to a starting point — nothing ground breaking, but definitely handy. From there you can open the “Looks” slideout and choose from the hundreds of preset looks. I immediately found “Color Play” and chose “Skydance,” a trippy, ultra-saturated preset with a couple of color gradients, a preset color grade using Colorista (which I will cover later in this space) and some curve adjustments.

If you want to check the values against a scope you can click on the “Scopes” slideout. If you are on a small monitor you may have to close the “Looks” slideout to see the scopes. From here you can check out your footage on a scalable RGB Parade, Slice Graph (displays color values from one line in your image), zoomable Hue/Saturation, Hue/Lightness, Memory Colors (really interesting and deserves a read), and Skin Tone Overlay, which adds lines over your image where it believes the true skin tone colors are coming through.

To apply and begin customizing a look, you can add a preset by double clicking it. It will then apply itself to your clip or adjustment layer. At the same time, it will layout any specific tools used into what Red Giant calls the “Tool Chain,” or the row of tools along the bottom of the GUI. This Tool Chain is important because it is the order of operations. If you put a tool on the right side of the Tool Chain it will impact the preceding tools on the left. For example, if you double click the Print Bleach Bypass tool (which is also awesome and gives a shiny silvery-like polish) it will place the effect naturally at the end of the Tool Chain. This impacts all previous effects, basically creating an end to the order of operations. If you want to get tricky, Magic Bullet Looks allows you to disrupt the order of operations in the Tool Chain by Alt+dragging the tool to a different spot in the Tool Chain. This can be a great method for building a unique look, essentially disrupting the normal order of operations to get a new perspective (on a Mac it is Option+drag).

Once I completed my quick look build, I clicked the check mark on the bottom of the window and was back in Premiere Pro CC 2017 playing my Sony a6300 footage in realtime with the Magic Bullet Look applied at 100 percent strength with no slowdowns. To be clear, I am not running a super-fast machine. In fact, it’s essentially a powerful tablet with an Intel i7 3.10Ghz processor, 8GB of RAM and an Intel Iris GPU, so playing down this look in realtime is pretty amazing.

For a test I trimmed my clip down to one minute in length and added Magic Bullet Look’s Color Play preset “Skydance” — which I mentioned earlier adds chromatic aberration inside of the plugin. I then exported it as a 1080p H.264 QuickTime at around 10 to12 Mb/s, which is basically a highly compressed QuickTime for YouTube, Instagram or Twitter. It took about four minutes and eighteen seconds with the look applied, and one minute without the look applied. So it took quite a bit longer to export with the look, but that can expected with a heavy color grading process. Obviously, with a fast system with a GPU like an Nvidia GTX 1080, you will be chewing through this type of export.

In the end, Magic Bullet Looks 4 is a great paint-by-numbers way of color correcting and grading, but with the ability to highly modify what is being used to create that look. I really love it. As someone who color corrects most of his footage the “old” way with wheels and such, it’s a breath of fresh air to jump into a plug-in that will give you a pretty great output with the same ability to dial in your look that a colorist may be used to but in half the time.

One thing you will notice as I review the rest of the plug-ins in the rest of the Magic Bullet Suite 13 is that the plugins Colorista, Renoiser, and Mojo II are also included with Magic Bullet Looks 4 but only when used inside of the plug-in. When you purchase the entire Magic Bullet Suite 13 you get those as standalone plugins, a feature that I actually like a lot better than working inside of the Looks plug-in. It’s something to consider if you can’t shell out the full $899.

Colorista IV
Colorista IV is a color correction and grading plug-in that is similar in function to Adobe’s Lumetri color tools, but surpasses it. It is compatible with Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC, Final Cut Pro X 10.2.3 and up, and Motion 5.2.3 and up. Inside of Premiere, Colorista IV offers a much more intuitive workflow for color correction and color grading than Lumetri. But I really think Colorista shines in apps like After Effects where you don’t have as robust color correction options.

Colorista IV consists of a three-way color corrector with the standard Shadows, Midtones and Highlight adjustments, new Temperature and Tint controls to help adjust white balance issues, an exposure compensation, Highlight Recovery, Pop, Hue-Saturation-Lightness wheels and many more adjustments. Right off the bat you can now specify whether your footage is video (basically Rec.709) or Log. When you specify Log, Colorista will actually work a little differently and a little better for your footage than if you tried to use the video color mode. While that is not an uncommon feature/workflow in color correction apps, it is an important update to the Colorista toolset.

Another update is the Guided Color correction, which walks you through color balancing an image in seven steps. I have to say it’s not too bad. After about five different guided color balances using the Guided Color Correction I came to the same conclusion: it looks a little too contrasty but it’s not a bad starting point. Think of it like a guided auto correct. It even shows before and afters of your image while making adjustments in the Guided section. In fact, if you are learning to color correct this is a great way to simply understand a basic initial step when correcting.

After you run through the guided correction, you can fine-tune anything you did in that process, including using Colorista’s Key Mode. The Key Mode of Colorista is a simplified version of secondary keying in color correcting apps. If you want to isolate a skin tone or a specific color that is possibly too saturated, you can enable the Key Mode, select the color you want to adjust by using the color selectors or even using the HSL Cube, and adjust your selection From here Colorista gives you a few options: “Apply” the key, “Cutout” the key, or “Show Key” which will turn the image into a black and white matte for some more advanced adjustments that reach beyond the scope of this review but can be fun and extremely helpful.. You can also select the “Show Skin Overlay” checkbox that will overlay a checkerboard-like pattern on the parts of your image when they have “proper” skin tone colors; it’s pretty useful when doing beauty work and keys in Colorista.

The last two categories in Colorista IV are the Structure & Lighting and Tone Curve & LUT. Structure allows for quick adjustments to the shadows, highlights, pop (basically sharpness) and adding a vignette. The Tone Curve is a multipoint curve, much like curves in every other color correcting app, and at the bottom is where you can load your own LUT or choose a specific technical LUT, such as Sony’s Slog 2 or 3.

Summing Up
In the end, Magic Bullet Looks and Colorist IV are plug-ins that can be super simple or very meticulous depending on your mood or skill level. While almost everything in these plug-ins can be achieved without a plug-in, Colorista IV and Looks gives a simple and straightforward interface for accomplishing great color balance, a correction and grade.

One of my favorite features inside the updated Colorista IV is the new panel, which can be opened by clicking on the menu bar: Window > Extensions > Magic Bullet Colorista IV. You can keep this panel open and instantly begin color correcting a clip without having to drag the effect onto every clip you want to correct; it will automatically apply it to whichever layer is selected. If you are interested in color correction and want to ease into the complexity, Magic Bullet Looks 4 and Colorist IV are a great way to learn.

In the next Magic Bullet review I will be covering the rest of the plugins that comprise the Suite 13 plug-in set, including Magic Bullet Denoiser III which has been revamped and rivals Neat Video (an industry standard noise reduction plug-in), Cosmo II, Renoiser and Film. To buy all of these together check this out, where you can occasionally find everything at a discount.

Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel

By Brady Betzel

If you’ve never used a color correction panel like the Tangent Element, Tangent Ripple, Avid Artist Color, or been fortunate enough to touch the super high-end FilmLight Blackboard 2, Blackmagic Advanced Panel or the Nucoda Precision Control Panel, then you don’t know what you are missing.

If you can, reach out to someone at a post house and sit at a real color correction console; it might change your career path. I’ve talked about it before, but the first time I sat in a “real” (a.k.a. expensive) color correction/editing bay I knew that I was on the right career path.

Color correction can be done without using color correction panels, but think of it like typing with one hand (maybe even one finger) — sure it can be done, but you are definitely missing out on the creative benefit of fluidity and efficiency.

In terms of affordable external color correction panels, Tangent makes the Ripple, Wave and Element panel sets that range from $350 to over $3,300, but work with pretty much every color correction app I can think of (even Avid if you use the Baselight plug-in). Avid offers the Artist Color panel, which also works with many apps, including Avid Media Composer, and costs about $1,300. Beyond those two, you have the super high-end panels that I mentioned earlier; they range from $12,000 to $29,999.

Blackmagic recently added two new offerings to their pool of color correction panel hardware: the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel and DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel. The Micro is similar in size and functionality to the Avid Artist panel, and the Mini is similar to the center part of most high-end color correction panels.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that you can only use these panels with Blackmagic’s Resolve, and Resolve must be updated to at least version 12.5.5 to function. They connect to your computer via USB 3 Type C or Ethernet.

I received the Resolve Mini Panel to try out for a couple of weeks, and immediately loved it. If you’ve been lucky enough to use a high-end color correction panel like Blackmagic’s Advanced Panel, then you will understand just how great it feels to control Resolve with hardware. In my opinion, using hardware panels eliminates almost 90 percent of the stumbling when using color correction software as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse. The Resolve Mini Panel is as close as you are going to get to professional-level color correction hardware panel without spending $30,000.

Digging In
Out of the box, the panel feels hefty but not too heavy. It’s solid enough to sit on a desk and not have to worry about it walking around while you are using it. Of course, because I am basically a kid, I had to press all the buttons and turn all the dials before I plugged it in. They feel great… the best-feeling wheels and trackballs on a $3,000 panel I’ve used. The knobs and buttons feel fine. I’m not hating on them, but I think I like the way the Tangent buttons depress better. Either way, that is definitely subjective. The metal rings and hefty trackballs are definitely on the level of the high-end color correction panels you can see in pro color bays.

Without regurgitating Blackmagic’s press release in full, I want to go over what I think really shines on this panel. I love the two five-inch LCD panels just above the main rings and trackballs. Below the LCDs and above the row of 12 knobs are eight more knobs that interact with the LCDs. Above the LCDs are eight soft buttons and a bunch of buttons that help you navigate around the node tree and jump into different modes, like qualifiers and tracking.

Something I really loved when working with the Mini Panel was adding points on a curve and adjusting those individual points. This is one of the best features of the Mini Panel, in my opinion. Little shortcuts like adding a node + circle window in one key press are great features. Directly above the trackballs and rings are RGB, All and Level buttons that can reset their respective parameters for each of the Lift Gamma and Gain changes you’ve made. Above those are buttons like Log, Offset and Viewer — a quick way to jump into Log mode, Offset mode and full-screen Viewer mode.

When reading about the user buttons and FX buttons in the Resolve manual it states that they will be enabled in future releases, which gets me excited about what else could be coming down the pike. NAB maybe?

Of course, there can be improvements. I mean, it is a Version 1 product, but everything considered Blackmagic really hit it out of the park. To see what some pros think needs to be changed and/or altered troll over to the holy grail of color correction forums: Lift Gamma Gain. You’ll even notice some Blackmagic folks sniffing around answering questions and hinting at what is coming in some updates. In addition, Blackmagic has their own forum where an interesting post popped up titled DaVinci Mini Panel Suggestion Box. This is another great post to hang around.

Wishlist/Suggestions
When using the panels, when I would exit Resolve the LCDs didn’t dim or go into screen-saver mode like some other panels I’ve used. Furthermore, there isn’t a dimmer for the brightness of the LCD screens and backlit buttons. In the future, I would love the ability to dim or completely shut off the panels when I am in other apps or presenting to a client and don’t want the panel glowing. The backlit keys aren’t terribly bright though, so it’s not a huge deal.

While in the forums, I did notice posts about the panel’s inability to do the NLE-style of transport control: double tapping fast forward to go faster. Furthermore, a wheel might be a nice transport addition for scrubbing. In the node shortcut buttons, I couldn’t find an easy way to delete a node or add an outside node directly from the panel. On other panels, I love moving shapes/windows around using the trackballs but, unfortunately, you can only move/adjust the windows around with knobs, which isn’t terrible but is definitely less natural than using the trackballs. Lastly, I kind of miss the ability to set and load memories from a panel, with the Mini Panel we don’t have that option….yet. Maybe it will come in an update since there are buttons with numbers on them, but who knows.

Mini and Micro Panel
Technically, the Mini Panel is the Micro Panel but with the addition of the top LCDs and buttons. It also has the ability to connect the panel not just by USB-C but also via Ethernet. If connecting via Ethernet, there has been some talk of power over Ethernet (PoE) compatibility, which powers your panel without the need for a power cable. Some folks have had less success with standard PoE, but have had success using PoE+ appliances — something to keep in mind.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels have the standard three trackballs and rings, 12 control knobs and 18 keys hard coded for specific tasks and transport controls. In addition, the Mini Panel has two 5-inch screens, eight additional soft buttons, eight additional soft knobs and 30 additional hard-coded buttons that focus on node navigation and general mode navigation.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels are powered via USB-C, but the Mini Panel also adds PoE connection as mentioned earlier, as well as a 4-pin XLR DC power connection. Something to note: I thought that when I received the Mini Panel I might have been missing a power cable from the box because I had a test unit, but upon more forum reading I found that you do not get a power cable with the Mini Panel. While Blackmagic does ship a USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter cable with the Mini and Micro Panels, they do not ship a power cable, which is unfortunate and an odd oversight, but since the panels are affordable I guess it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, if you are a post nerd like me, you probably have a few 5-15 to C13 power cables lying around the house.

I can’t shake the feeling that Blackmagic is going to be adding some additional external panels to piece together something like the Advanced Panel set-up (much like how the Tangent Element panel set can be purchased). Things like an external memory bank or an X-Keys type set-up seem not too far off for Blackmagic. I would even love to be able to turn the LCD screens into scopes if possible, and even hook up an Ultrascope via the panel so I don’t have to purchase additional hardware. Either way, the Mini Panel gets me real excited about the path Blackmagic is carving for their Resolve users.

Summing Up
In the end, if you are a professional colorist looking for a semi-portable panel and haven’t committed to the Tangent Element ecosphere yet, the Resolve Mini Panel is for you … and your credit card. The Mini Panel is as close to a high-end color correction panel that I have seen, and has a wallet-friendly retail price of $2,995. It is very solid and doesn’t feel like a substitute for a full-sized panel — it can hold its own.

One thing I was worried about when I began writing this review was questioning whether or not tying myself down to one piece of software was a good idea. When you invest in the Mini Panel, you are wholeheartedly dedicating yourself to DaVinci Resolve, and I think that is a safe bet.


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: GoPro’s Karma Grip and Quik Key

By Brady Betzel

There has been a flood of GoPro-compatible accessories introduced over the last several years, with few having as much impact as handheld stabilizers. Stabilizers have revolutionized videography (more specifically GoPro videography) and they are becoming extremely compact and very reasonably priced.

A while ago, I reviewed a GoPro Hero 3- and 4-compatible handheld stabilizer from Polaroid, which was good but had a few kinks to work out, like a somewhat clumsy way of mounting your camera.

Over the last year, GoPro has ventured into the drone market with the Karma Drone where it unfortunately fell out of grace — it was recalled because of a battery latch issue — but has recently returned to the market.

When I first got my hands on the Karma Drone (the initial release), I immediately saw the benefit of buying GoPro’s drone. Along with the GoPro Karma Drone came the Karma Grip, a handheld stabilizer for the newly released Hero 5 action camera. It is really mind blowing to be flying a drone one minute and seconds later remove the Karma Grip from the Karma Drone and then be creating beautifully smooth shots. Handheld stabilizers like the GoPro Karma Grip have really helped shooters to create more cinematically styled footage at a relatively low cost.

When GoPro sent me the Karma Grip to borrow for a few weeks, I was really excited. I received the Karma Grip between the time they recalled the Karma Drone and when they subsequently re-released it. In addition to the Karma Grip they sent me the Quik Key, a mobile microSD card reader.

In this review I’m going to share my experience with the Karma Grip as well as touch on the Quik Key and why it’s a phenomenal accessory if you want to quickly upload photos from your GoPro action cam.

Jumping In
When testing the Karma Grip I used my GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition, which is important to note because the Hero 5 has a different case build than previous GoPro models. You’ll need to purchase a different harness if you have a Hero 4. Nonetheless, I love the Hero 5. While the Hero 4 and Hero 5 have similar camera sensors, they have some major differences. First, the Hero 5 has some really sweet voice control. I’m not a huge Siri user, so I was initially skeptical when GoPro tried to sell me on the voice control. To my surprise I love it, especially when paired with the Remo waterproof voice-activated remote. To not be a total GoPro fanboy, I will avoid reviewing the Remo for now but it’s something that I really love.

The Hero 5 has a built-in waterproof housing (unlike previous versions that needed a separate waterproof housing), voice activation, easy-to-use touch screen menu system and many other features. What I’m getting at is that the Karma Grip comes out of the box to fit the Hero 5, but you can purchase the Hero 4 Harness for an additional $29.99. The Session mount will be released later in the summer.

What makes the GoPro Karma Grip different from other handheld stabilizers, in my opinion, is its build quality, ease of use and GoPro-focused mounting options. Immediately when opening the Karma Grip box you get four key components: the removable grip handle ($99.99), mounting ring ($29.99) and stabilizer ($249.99) with the Hero 5 harness attached ($29.99). In addition, it all comes in a form-fitted case. The case is sturdy but kind of reminds me of a trombone case; it does the job but is a little unwieldy. When you buy the Karma Grip as a set it retails for $299.99, which is a little pricey, but in my opinion completely worth it — especially if you plan to buy the Karma drone because you can purchase the drone separately.

If you know you are going to buy the Karma Drone, you should probably just go ahead and buy the whole drone package now ($1099.99 Karma Drone with the Grip and Hero 5, $799.99 Karma Drone with the Grip). If you decide you want the Karma Drone you can purchase the Flight Kit for the Karma Grip for $599. For those counting at home that comes to $899 if you purchase the Grip and the Karma Drone separately, so it’s definitely a better deal to buy it all at once if you can.

Once I opened the form-fitted Karma Grip case, I plugged the USB-C charging cable into the base of the Karma Grip handle. I kind of wish the cable plugged in somewhere other than the base, since I like to rest stabilizers on their base, but not really a big deal if you have your case around. I set the Karma Grip to charge overnight, but the manual writes it will take six hours on a standard 1A charger, and one hour and 50 minutes if you use the “Supercharger” — immediately I was like what the hell is this Supercharger and why don’t I have one? They are $49.99 and can be found here.

So the next day I tried using the Karma Grip in conjunction with a suction cup mount inside of my car on my ride home from work. I wanted to see how the Karma Grip would work when mounted to a windshield (inside my car) to film a driving timelapse. To attach the Karma Grip you have to put a separate mounting ring between the handle and the stabilizer. Like a typical bonehead, I didn’t read the manual, so I tried mounting the ring with the GoPro mount. It took me a few tries to get it on right, but once it is on it actually feels very sturdy.

From there you have to do a typical GoPro mount connecting dance to get everything situated. You can check out my results here.

Admittedly, I probably should have locked the view of the Karma Grip to keep it focused straight forward, but I didn’t. It worked okay, but I definitely would need way more time to perfect this. However, if you can lock in your Karma Grip to something like the side of a train or airplane, your shooting options will become way smoother.

On the Move
Next I wanted to test running around with the Karma Grip. Once you lock your Hero 5 into the harness on the Karma Grip it’s as simple as powering on your Grip and hitting record. You can flip over the Grip to record a ground level view very easily. Flipping the Karma Grip over to a ground level view was the easiest transition on a handheld stabilizer I have ever experienced. Usually you have to either tell the stabilizer that you want to film ground level or you have to do a certain motion to not make the stabilizer flip out. The Karma Grip is incredibly easy to use; it lets you film smoothly with minimal effort.

To go a little further into testing I made a makeshift mount using a pipe and a 2×4 I had lying around. I screwed some sticky GoPro mounts to the 2×4 for mounting. In the end, I wanted to put my Hero 4 mounted alongside my Hero 5 mounted on the Karma Grip to demonstrate just how stable the Karma Grip makes your footage. You can check it out here. After a few hours of using the Karma Grip, I really felt like I had many more options when filming. I saw a staircase and knew I could run up it without my steps being reflected in my video recording; it really opens your creative brain.

One thing I wish was more easily accessible was a mount for an external microphone. In my video, I separated the audio on the left from the GoPro Hero 4 not mounted in the Karma Grip and the Hero 5 mounted in the Karma Grip. I did this so I could hear the difference. Once in the Karma Grip, the Hero 5’s audio becomes pretty muted. I know that GoPros aren’t necessarily supposed to be used with external mics, but with the GoPro’s audio not being high level all the time I sometimes use an external mic mounted on something like the iOgrapher Go or even the Karma Grip. If the Karma Grip could somehow mount a microphone along with possibly integrating a ¼-inch jack instead of having to buy a $49.99 converter I would be very happy.

Quik Key
The Quik Key is a great addition to the GoPro accessory line and is available for Lightning Port for the iOS ($29.99), Micro-USB ($19.99) and even USB-C ($19.99). It works directly with the GoPro Capture app on your mobile device to transfer photos and videos without having to hook up your GoPro or microSD card to your computer. Based on support documents, it seems like Android phones are more compatible with formats and resolutions, but since I have an iPhone the iOS version is what I am dealing with. You can get the specific iPhone resolution compatibility chart here. It’s interesting to note that ProTune footage is specifically not compatible with iOS.

The Quik Key is great for my dad adventures (or dad-ventures!) to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, hikes, baseball games, etc. If for some odd reason one of my sons takes a nap, I can transfer some videos or images to my phone and upload them to the web while on the run. The Quik Key comes with a carabiner-style clip to hang on, but it’s definitely small enough to keep in your pocket with the Remo remote. I love the Remo for the same dad-ventures with the kids; you can use the button as a shutter release and also change shooting modes from video to photos by just saying “GoPro Photo Mode.”

Summing Up
In the end, while GoPro is digging their way out of the Karma Drone battery latch caper, I continue to love their gear. The GoPro Hero 5 is my favorite camera they’ve made to date and it’s easy to take along since you no longer need an external housing to keep it waterproof. All of the GoPro accessories like the Karma Grip, Hero 5, Hero 5 Session, mounts, three-way mount and practically anything else fit perfectly in my favorite GoPro bag, The Seeker. It’s an incredible bag that even comes with room enough for your CamelBak water bladder.

The Karma Grip is smooth and super easy to use, it works flawlessly with the Hero 5 and coming soon in spring of 2017 is the Karma Grip extension cable. The extension cable allows you to put your Grip handle out of sight and mount the stabilizer inconspicuously, something I bet a lot of television shows will like to use, opening the GoPro creativity door a little more.

I really love GoPro products. Even if there are other options out there, I always know that for the most part the GoPro product line is made of high-quality accessories and cameras that everyone from moms and dads to professional broadcasters rely on. I can even give my GoPro to my sons to run around with and get muddy without a care in the world allowing them to capture the world from their own point of view. The GoPro product line including the Karma Grip is full of awesome gear that I can’t recommend enough.


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: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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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: 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.helloluxx.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.