Apologies for the delay in updates. We were on roll for awhile! This is the final marathon four city shoot round up. We started our first production day in New York by carting our gear from hotel to location with the help of the door guy and our New York helper for the day Pepe Urquijo.
Random photos of the set-up.
We had a break in the middle of the day to wander around mid-town Manhattan.
It wasn’t all work in NYC, we also made it over to B&H.
Where we geeked out on gear…
That oddly shaped new Panasonic.
Being on the road with a video crew can feel like being in a traveling band. We never stick around in any particular city for too long, and we’re constantly humping large boxes and bags of gear. Set-up and breakdown at the end of the day are remarkably similar to prepping and striking a stage for a big performance. …And oh my god, baggage claim is stressful. Let’s not even get into security.
In this post we want to talk about what we’re producing, how we’re producing it, and some of the hiccups and solutions.
At the moment, we’re traveling the country producing a corporate video that entails lots of all day recording in conference rooms where we have little control of the room except in the hour and half when we are setting up. For the rest of the day, we shoot hour long interviews every hour on the hour and need to fade into the background without interrupting the interviews we are documenting. We try to interrupt them as little as possible, because they would be happening with our without us there. It’s simply our job to document the process.
If you’ve ever worked on a set of any kind, you know that any and all aspects of production can be tweaked, and often are through the course of a production. Problems arise, and trouble shooting must happen. Sometimes the subjects need a little make-up, or in this case need to present to camera instead of turning there back to us. On this job, we take each arising challenge on a case by case basis. So far the only actions that have called for absolute interruption of the proceedings have been mic issues, or in the case previously mentioned, when a subject literally turned his back to camera.
We’re working in a mixed production environment using two Canon XH-A1′s, both shooting to tape. The A-Cam is also being fed to an AJA Ki Pro Mini recording in Apple ProRes LT. This is both for ease of post-production later, and so that the client has immediate access to dailies. We brought our Matrox Mini Max in an attempt to feed the B-Cam directly into Final Cut Pro in a live capture, but it kept dropping frames. We didn’t have time to trouble shoot, so we aborted that and will need to capture the B-Cam later.
The AJA Ki Pro Mini is a new device (not just new to us). Some people are having audio sync issues with it. We have not had those, but we have had some issues. We are recording all day long (usually 8 to 9 hours of recording). We have done two production days so far. Right around hour six on both days, the Ki Pro Mini crapped out on us. It spontaneously stopped recording and would not start again. We tried fresh cards in both slots, and neither would record. Our opinion is that it’s an overheating issue, because after about 15 minutes of cool down and a reboot, it came back.
The Ki Pro Mini gets HOT! And the cards coming out of it are hot as well. Because we have not yet purchased a desktop stand for it, or rods to mount it to camera, we’ve tried to increase air flow by perching it on top of two tape boxes. Having it crap out on us two days in row was a big dissappointment. Luckily we’ve got redundant systems going, we’re also shooting to tape. That means we didn’t loose anything, but it’s a bit of a hiccup in our workflow. It meant an extra couple of hours after production capturing A-Cam tapes for dailies. That goes completely contrary to why we purchased the device in the first place and really messes up our sleep patterns. In short, five hours of use and it works like a charm. Six hours and you’ve got problems.
Other interesting observations about the Ki Pro: It will not roll over recording from one slot to another because it needs to “close out” the recorded file on the first card. You need to wait for it to do that, then hit the “slot” button to deactivate the card so it can be ejected. Then hit “slot” again to initialize the second card for recording.
Related to audio, if you’re feeding audio in through the SDI (at least with our A1′s through a BlackMagic Design converter) then you can’t control the levels on the Ki Pro. If you feed audio in through the XLR inputs, you can.
Above is Brian Quint, who helped us out with set-up and media management on our LA Shoot.
That is Lauretta Molitor, our all star audio person.
We’ve got triple system audio going. Lauretta feeds audio into both A1′s, the Ki Pro, and records independently.
We’re using two KinoFlo Diva 400′s as key lights and two 200′s as back lights/ fills. They’re working great for quick set-up with even/ soft lighting.
We’re also using the 7D for close-ups, and b-roll. Abby rocked it to snap this props photo.
She was also having fun with it in our hotel room.
Because we brought the Matrox Mini with us, we’re employing it for a second task: compressing dailies to h.264 for the web. It rocks for that.
PluralEyes in action with FCP to sync the “Ki Pro crapped out” captured dailies with Lauretta’s iso audio. Here I should say that we forgot to bring a firewire to capture tapes. (We’re going to pick one up today.) On the first night when we needed to capture a couple of tapes from the A-Cam for dailies, we tried to run the capture through the Ki Pro Mini and on to a compact flash card. For some reason that we have not been able to repeat, the audio coming out of that capture was completely ruined with rhythmic popping sounds. Therefore we needed to sync with the clean audio Lauretta recorded independently. Ah, new tech. It’s a little frustrating, but by using redundant system’s we got everything we needed. That’s all that matters in the end.
All in a days work.
LA and Houston down, next stop NYC.
We ordered the Ki Pro Mini last week from Adorama (the only vendor we found who had them in stock) and were finally able to test it out yesterday after the Black Magic analog to SDI converter we ordered came in from B&H.
If you are interested in the pros and cons of the to AJA devices for our workflow and also what factored into our decision click here for the last blog. In the end it came down to two things: Price and Function. Even with the core peripherals that we needed to make the Mini function with our A1′s, the price was much lower for the package then the standard Ki Pro. Some of the more convienient peripherals, like the plate that mounts it to rods and the battery can wait.
Also, the peripherals we had to buy (like compact flash cards) work with our 7D. The cost of those was more like an investment in our gear overall. As for function, we just didn’t need the features present in the standard Ki Pro that are absent from the Mini. Our primary need is footage that we could edit with immdiately, no transcoding, no capturing. The AJA Ki Pro Mini provides that.
About peripherals and setting up the AJA Ki Pro Mini with the Canon XH-A1:
For those who are not familiar, the Canon XH-A1 outputs video via Component, while the Ki Pro Mini only accepts HDMI or HDSDI. Therefore a converter is required, and we chose Black Magic Design.
After we unboxed all our new toys, we got right to testing them out. The menu on the Ki Pro Mini was incredibly easy to navigate. We plugged in two 64GB Sandisk compact flash cards and formatted them easily. Then we told the Ki Pro Mini to record Apple ProRes LT at 1080. Then we plugged in the component cable to the back of the A1, and with the help of a couple of BNC adapters, right into the side of the Black Magic Converter.
From there it was as simple as running a BNC cable to the Ki Pro Mini, turning on the A1, and then hitting record on the Ki Pro. Test one complete, we popped out the card in slot 1, hooked up to our card reader to one of our MacPro stations and we had Apple ProRes LT ready to edit.
We are still working on audio. For the test we plugged a Rode NTG-2 shot gun mic directly into the Ki Pro Mini via its XLR inputs. It recorded great, and perfectly synced.
That is a completely acceptable solution for professional work (running audio directly into the Ki Pro we mean). However, we would like to bring audio out of the camera and into the Ki Pro Mini. For that we tried using a 1/8 to two mono 1/4 audio cable shown in the pictures above, but it’s not working for us. We’re only getting one channel and the other channel is noise. This is probably user error, or maybe we’ve got the wrong kind of cable. If you know anything about audio and can tell us what we’re doing wrong please do. When we figure it out, we’ll update.
Edit 04/21/2011 we fixed the audio issue:
To bring audio out of the camera and sync it correctly through the Black Magic Converter you need to get 1/4 adapters for the A/V RCA cables that come with the Canon XH-A1.
White goes in the left, red goes in right, and yellow just hangs out.
The 1/8 end plugs into the AV/1 hole on the back of the camera.
You can use the 1/8 to two mono 1/4 cable to get audio from the camera to the Ki Pro Mini, like we originally tried to do.
The secret is that you need to plug in the 1/8 end into the headphone jack. We were able to get stereo channels that way with no noise. Also, the convention is Tip in the left and Ring in the right. (You can reverse it and they still work though.)
We don’t advise doing it that way. Stick with the RCA method, but if you’re in a pinch and all you’ve got is the cable above, it will work.
Our original problem was using that cable connect to the AV/1 hole. We realized that hole was sending out an audio and video signal to a cable only meant for audio. Thus one channel of audio and one channel of noise. User error. You live and you learn.
The only other problem that we ran into was definitely user error. The Ki Pro will record whatever feed the camera is giving it. We left the display on, so all of our timecode and other information was burned into our video. If you don’t want to do that, which we don’t, then it’s as simple as navigating through the menu on the A1 and telling it not to send that information out with the video feed. Menu> Display Setup> TV Screen> Off
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This is an insight into how we make our purchasing decisions. (To find out what AJA Ki Pro we bought, click here.)
We’re thinking about buying an AJA Ki Pro to help extend the life of our Canon XH-A1′s. They’re great cameras, but they are a little long in the tooth. We want to go tapeless with a camcorder, but aren’t ready to invest in a new one in the middle of DSLR mania. (Of which we have also succumbed… we love our 7D, but it’s not good for everything.)
The AJA Ki Pro is a device that allows you to capture straight to Apple Pro Res from almost any video recording device…
From the AJA website:
“The AJA Ki Pro is a tapeless video recording device that records high-quality Apple ProRes 422 QuickTime files onto computer-friendly Storage Module media. Because it features SD/HD-SDI, HDMI, and analog inputs, you can interface with virtually any type of camera you might own or rent. Enjoy monitoring flexibility through Ki Pro’s numerous simultaneous outputs, connecting to both professional and consumer monitors. Ki Pro is portable and rugged; designed for real production environments. With the optional exo-skeleton it can sit below your camera—out of the way of your battery adapters, wireless mics and other accessories. Offering up/down/cross-conversion and a multitude of connections, integration with your other production gear is seamless.”
That all sounds great, but it clocks in at just under $4k. Which is about a grand more than a brand new A1. Enter the AJA Ki Pro Mini.
From the website:
“Ki Pro Mini is the smallest and simplest way of connecting production and post, anywhere shooting takes you. With a miniature form factor that makes for the smallest camera and recorder package available, Ki Pro Mini is powerful, supporting all four types of Apple ProRes 422 (including HQ, LT and Proxy). The newest member of the award winning Ki Pro family, Ki Pro Mini simplifies the link between production and post by unobtrusively fitting in small spaces and acquiring on the best codec for use with Apple Final Cut Studio, from any SDI or HDMI camera, regardless of format. With its high quality digital connectivity, you’ve got the perfect solution for portable on-set digital capture.”
This one comes in at just under $2k and ditches all the up/down cross conversion features. That’s a much more attractive price point to extend the life of our A1′s. However there is one caveat. It only accepts HD/SDI or HDMI. The A1 doesn’t output either of those. It will output Component. The plot thickens.
We can buy a Black Magic: Analog to SDI adapter to convert the signal. That little device costs $500.
That ups the cost to $2500. Still less than the standard Ki Pro, but with more points of potential failure and we still need to buy compact flash cards. 64GB cards cost $550. If we record in Apple ProRes LT (the smallest sized equivalent to the HDV our cameras record natively) than we can record 1.4 hours on one card, which we would then need to dump. In a continuous recording scenario like a conference, that would mean a minimum of two cards. Luckily they are hot swappable.
With two cards the price goes up to $3600. That’s still less than the standard Ki Pro which actually costs $4800 with a 500GB hard drive for all day recording and the cage that let’s you mount it to a tripod. However, if we go the mini route, we need a way to mount it as well:
Zacuto Univerasl Base Plate $530
AJA Ki Pro Mini Rod Accessory Plate $150
AJA Mini Mounting Plates x 2 $150
New Total: $4400
And if we ever want to take it handheld we need to power it:
Anton Bauer Dionic 90 Battery $900
Ikan M-A Universal AB Mounting Plate $57
New Total: $5387
We have far surpassed the cost of the standard Ki Pro and we haven’t figured out a way to mount the Black Magic box… maybe velcro. For more than 5K we could buy a new camcorder… We can lose the mounting (with room to grow) and settle at $3600, but the lack of a cohesive way to keep it all together is worrisome.
We boiled it down to these pro’s and con’s:
AJA Ki Pro
- Less points of failure
- Quicker set-up
- All day recording
- More features (that we have no immediate use for)
- More expensive
- No good way to adapt it to handheld
AJA Ki Pro Mini
- Less expensive
- Upgrade to portability
- Uses the same recording media as our DSLR’s (and the XF-300 if we were to invest in that camera in the future)
- Uses similar accessories to our DSLR rig, so investing in it would also be investing in our other gear
- More set-up time
- More monitoring in order to continually swap out cards
We are purchasing this week, we’ll let you know what we decide. Insight is appreciated.
If you’re interested in a wider look at how we came to these considerations:
Over the years we’ve put together a healthy stock pile of video gear from cameras to final cut plug-ins. We’re always on the look out for new tools that will improve the quality of of our work. However, professional video equipment is expensive so “cost/ benefit” is always a consideration.
At this particular moment, we’re taking a look at our camera arsenal. We are primarily using DSLR’s for client work, and looking forward to using them for documentary projects. They are wonderful cameras, but they have drawbacks when compared to traditional camcorders that make them less than desirable for some jobs. To name just a few; they can’t auto focus in video mode, they can only record in 12 minute bursts, and saying that they’re audio capabilities leave a lot to be desired is just being nice. We overcome those short comings every time we break out the 7D, and the truth is we’re better for it. We love the camera… BUT sometimes we need a traditional camcorder, with traditional camcorder capabilities (read none of the above short comings).
For those time’s we have our two Canon XH-A1 packages. They were our first gear investments and have been incredibly good to us over the years. They capture gorgeous 1080 HDV through excellent Canon lens. They handle well and have been durable. We’ve used them on everything from corporate conferences to skateboarding coverage for ESPN.com. The truth is we love them too.
During the BART Tour 2010 shoot, we employed both the 7D and one of our A1′s. They cut together nicely, but more notable was my experience at the end of that day after I switched from the 7D to the A1 to shoot Matt Pugh skating Potrero Park. Shooting with a traditional video camera felt like the easiest most comfortable thing in the world after wrestling with DSLR lenses all day.
The trouble is that the Canon XH-A1 is a few generations behind at this point. It shoots to Mini DV tape, which means capturing. Clients aren’t requesting it. Canon has moved on to the XF-300 for it’s similarly classed camcorder. That camera records to compact flash cards in MPEG 2 with a 4:2:2 color space. We’re taking a hard look at it, and hoping that Canon combines the large DSLR chips with it’s camcorder ergonomics sooner than later. We don’t want to jump to Panasonic or Sony.
So what do we do? We need a real camcorder that records to a drive/ card/ solid state. Should we invest in an XF-300 ($6500)? Should we wait Canon out for a better camcorder with large sensors? Should we jump ship and invest in the new Panasonic AG-AF100 ($4700 no lens), which is basically a hybrid DSLR/ Camcorder that takes lenses from every brand, but also has XLR’s and everything else that it is to be a real camcorder? Sony’s got an attractive, albeit expensive ($13300) option on the table as well.
Let the considerations begin.
Follow me on Twitter: @jeremeylavoi
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Skaters: Doug Shoemaker and Shane Andrews