Time lapse footage Old Bills

Old Bills vantage point
Old Bills vantage point

Old Bill’s Fun Run Timelapse

Some of my Old Bill’s Fun Run time lapse footage was used in the 2014 1% For the Tetons Video Blitz Film Festival. Check out the film here:

Any part with the race, banner or runners were my shots. There were taken with a Nikon D800, Nikon D300s, and a Sony RX-100 to create the footage for part of this film.

Time Lapse Shooting Tips

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 aperture
Nikon 85mm f/1.4 aperture

I used Nikon  lenses with aperture rings to take all of the shot sequences to avoid flicker. When building up a time lapse video, flicker is the bane of time lapse shooters. It’s caused by subtle variations in the aperture setting when the camera takes pictures. You’ll never notice these in normal shooting but if you lay the shots down in a video sequence, the effect is distracting and ruins the video.

There are software tools to “de-flicker” or deflicker the video sequence. That’s all fine but it’s another step. All of Nikon’s new lenses are G series without aperture rings. I rarely use them but for time lapse. But when you need it, there’s nothing better. The only way to directly avoid this problem is to leave the G lens wide open or stop it all the way down. Both of these options aren’t as ideal.

Canon lenses and cameras used for time lapse shooting suffer from the same problem. If you are lucky enough to own a lens with an aperture ring and are thinking about selling it, consider that if you’re ever going to shoot time lapse, you’re selling off a superior tool.

Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ1000 review

panasonic-lumix-dmz-fx1000It shoots very nice UHD (not truly 4k) video. There is some noise in the image but that’s to be expected for this price point.

For the body size and handling, it’s really a nice camera for the right person. I can’t use it for my general shooting for several reasons but if I want a stealthy UHD camera, this one just might fit the bill. At a price below $900, I was stunned just how good it actually was.

Image quality

Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski
Photo courtesy of Sava Malachowski, © Sava Malachowski

The IQ (image quality) of the camera for a still is pretty good, though it’s not a higher end Nikon or Canon. Don’t be fooled. In dark areas at low ISO it’s easy to see the noise. A huge zoom lens just won’t have the resolution for stills. For most, they’ll be amazed. But if you’re discerning, you’ll be only “okay” with the shadow performance.

If you click on the image on the right, you can see a small sized sample of the full image. The red box shows the 1:1 sample area of the image on the moose hide. For as good as the image looks in full screen, when you get down to the nitty gritty, you’ll see it’s “okay”. I didn’t have time to do a MTR test or anything, but those don’t translate well into “what does it actually look like” terms.

1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm
1:1 quality of moose hide, you can see noise in the image, 1/160, f/5, ISO 125, 63mm

But for video quality you get a very nice image. I was pretty amazed to see it on an iMac display, even though the image was interpolated. It was just clearer than I’ve seen HD. Really, it looked like HD played on a 120Hz TV display. That was the look. The video samples were shot at 60FPS, so perhaps that helped. It really looked like the real thing. I didn’t expect it to be that much better than HD. But if you stack up a 3-chip HD camera with better dynamic range against a limited range, small sensor like this, you might be pressed to tell the difference. Again in the shadows there will be noise. The again, what do you expect for a small form factor single chip camera?

Lens

The aperture goes from about f/3 to ONLY f/8. That’s really miserable for photography. Nature of small sensor cameras. Even though the specs claim f/2.8 to f/11, in the shooting I was testing it with, it only really gave me f/3 to f/8 to work with. That’s a tough one, especially in full daylight shooting.

That zoom and optical stabilizer is awesome. I’d love to have something that goes from 25mm to 400mm and does a real good job on my D800. If I did, I could dump a bunch of other lenses. But I’d need it to be f/2.8 and have it go to f/22. Oh well, I can dream.

Dynamic Range

We had a snow shot with moose and it worked pretty well. But the snow on the mountains was blown out in the video with zebras set to 95%. Again, it’s not a D800 but it’ll blow away your little basic point and shoot. But I think my Sony RX-100 probably still beats it for dynamic range.

View finder

The electronic viewfinder – not bad for a video camera, okay for landscape shooting but poor for sports/action/moving things. When you pan/tilt, you get an image jitter. The swim is very small but the smearing in the image will irritate you if you shoot an optical DSLR. EVF (electronic view finders) aren’t there yet. I worked at a digital night vision company where we went to great efforts to have zero swim, jitter or anything else and this isn’t even close. Then again, those systems were $60,000 and this is $900. You get what you pay for.

The info in the viewfinder for a video camera is very nice. It fits the bill of shooting things where a video camera would get you into trouble. For the price, the image quality is pretty amazing. Is there better dynamic range and such out there? Yes, The GH4 and upwards. But for what this is going for, it really makes UHD accessible.

Controls

The switch to go from zoom to MF – not a fan. 2 rings are more expensive, though. There’s the zoom rocker on the shutter release. Eh, it’s under a finger, so it feels like a little point and shoot zoom for the video camera it’s designed for.

The fully manual video camera mode – thank goodness! Not allowing me to control Auto-ISO ruins other camcorders/DSLRs. Locking down exposure is critical if you want professional-looking images.

The different programmable function buttons are nice for getting what you want. Some of the switch modes like focus control are appreciated. They’re not in ergonomic places like my D800 at all. There are buttons which are appreciated on a video camera but the layout leaves lots to be desired. Like all things, it’s something you get used to.

Autofocus

The autofocus – amazingly fast. I’m not sure what they put in there but it must be a hybrid phase/contrast focus system because it matches my Nikon D800 focus speed quite easily. However, when you need to control focus points, that’s where it falls apart.

Storage

You’ll need lots more storage to use UHD on this camera. Your puny little 320GB drive will be gone in no time shooting with this. Think 2TB drives minimum. Why do I say this? I’m editing my film, Antarctic Tears, which is a feature length film. And it eats up 228GB of my SSD drive. And that’s shot in HD. This camera has almost 4x the resolution. Even a 500GB SSD won’t even come close to supporting a feature length film. 4k/UHD video is what HD was to our computers 10 years ago. Be ready to spend a LOT of money if you want to really work with this.

Other items

Major video shooting issue: This thing has no earphone out. That is one major failing. Why in the world they left this out is beyond me. Perhaps Panasonic is trying to push you into a higher end camera. You might be able to use the AV out and cobble something together. Who knows w/o that cable.

If you don’t have ears on your video camera, you’ll realize only after the shot is over what went wrong. I can pipe audio through my ZoomH4n and listen there, as I can use that as my XLR input, but still. No, this doesn’t have XLR. Of course not.

ND filters for video – buy one. You’ll need one. Or two. For a 3-stop ND, I use this Hoya filter.

The batteries seem to konk out pretty quick, but we were shooting at 10 degrees F with wind chill. Buy more batteries.

You’ll need an UHS-1 SD card for it. UHD video eats up a LOT of card space. I hope you bought a spare hard disk or three. Editing this video – get Rocketstore Thunderbolt enclosure with a SSD drive with a fast computer.

Buy your Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FX1000 here at B&H Photo.

Thank you to Sava Malachowski of Sava Film and Open Range Films for the sample images and video. He had excellent footage to sample and work with in tough conditions, shooting in a Wyoming winter with dark animals and bright snow. There’s not much tougher.

Solar Eclipse 2014

Click for a larger picture
Click for a larger picture

We enjoyed a lunar eclipse just a few weeks ago but today we in North America were treated to a much rarer solar eclipse. The spectacle today was quite enjoyable in Jackson, WY, even though there were clouds obscuring the event right up to the peak. Then, miraculously, the clouds parted and we were treated to quite a sight.

The peak time in Wyoming was 4:23PM MST.  I’m betting someone got an interesting shot over the Tetons. I’ll bet Mike Jackson or Mike Cavaroc got something good, even though it was pretty overcast over there.

Click for a larger picture
Click for a larger picture

One of the most interesting parts of this event was the very large sun spots nearly in the middle of the sun. As we are in a peak of the sun spot cycle, this made for an especially interesting event. These sun spots are -only- at 2,700–4,200 °C compared to the surface of the sun at a comfortable 5,500 °C. This is the reason they appear so much darker. It isn’t that they’re not that hot, it’s just everything around them is that much hotter.

Live viewing with special filters for those in overcast and invisible areas can be seen on www.space.com. Of course! The most interesting thing visible in the online view was the solar flare or prominence. These are 1,600,000,000 times more powerful and the biggest atomic bomb ever made.  They are 10’s of millions of degrees celcius. Wrap your head around that one. The best part is no scientist knows why they occur. There are still mysteries out there.

One of the best tools for viewing a solar eclipse are these solar eclipse glasses. They’re sold on Amazon and such. Using these, you can actually stare straight at the sun. I have a pair and it’s pretty amazing that you can do that, as they block both the UV and visible light spectrum. You can look at the unobscured sun as well. Of course put them on BEFORE looking at the sun.

Click for larger picture
See the sunspots? Click for larger picture

How did I get these photographs of the solar eclipse? Here’s the gear I used:

Nikon D800

Nikon 80-400mm f/4-5.6

Hoya 77mm NDx400 9 stop filter

Hoya 77mm Neutral Density (NDX8) 0.9 3-stop filter

Manfrotto Tripod and Kirk BH-3 ball head

These filters in combination were dark enough to look at the maximum eclipse without and problems. Once the moon started moving away from the sun, I had to use the DOF preview button on the D800 to keep viewing the event safely. Even adding on my Singh-Ray polarizer on top of these filters wouldn’t have been dark enough without either solar glasses or using the DOF preview.

I then shot all of my images on RAW and the above three are the best that came out. Other than shifting the color a bit to look more natural, these are as they came out of my D800. Normally I photograph jewelry, advertising, architecture and such, but fun sky displays always bring me outside.

WARNING: As always, NEVER look straight at the sun, ESPECIALLY through your camera. Permanent eye damage isn’t fun.

Fourth of July 2014

Fireworks Wort Hotel
Fireworks Wort Hotel

The Fourth of July, 2014, in Jackson Hole was a pleasant evening. The storm that blew through earlier in the day cleared out the air and made for perfect fireworks conditions.

Click on the picture at the right. It was taken from the Jackson Indian Arts Museum across the street from the Wort Hotel.

This is a single exposure, no Photoshop involved. Judicious use of exposure time, off-camera strobe, a Nikon D800, and a Nikon 35mm f/2D lens.

Happy Fourth America.

Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014

Jackson Hole Juggernauts

JH Juggernauts
JH Juggernauts

As a photographic sponsor of the Jackson Hole Juggernauts Roller Derby, I was out last night photographing them. They had a bout with the Magic City Rollers at the Snow King events arena. Although the home team lost, it was still a very good bout and enjoyable. Up to the 18 minute mark, the teams were tied, trading points and position back and forth. Then, out of nowhere, the Magic City Rollers rocketed past the Juggernauts and created an overwhelming deficit.

The sport of roller derby has come a long way since the 1970’s, when players bashed themselves up. Now, the rules are heavily enforced, get checks, no elbows, fists or otherwise. They really keep it interesting. Yes, there were many knock-downs. Many intentional. But I never see it as something where the players are trying to hurt each other, just take the opposing player out of play.

Turtle defense #1200
Turtle defense #1200

I had a lot of fun photographing this event, as this was the first time I was able to use my D800 to see how it would do in a sports situation with my Nikon 180mm f/2.8. The camera is not intended to be used for sports, as its repeat frame rate comes in at a paultry 4fps. But that’s not my shooting style. Instead of blasting away, I shoot selective shots, just like when I was shooting surfing. I have no desire to edit 3000 photos at the end of the night. I’d rather come back with a more useful 300. Granted, I can’t get the sequence shots that a D4s would give me, but that’s okay. The resolution advantage that the D800 gives me makes me happy. Besides, I’d be tempted to blast away with a D4s.

Stay down
Stay down

One of the things I did with this event was I was able to use my Nikon SB-800 Speedlights to light up the arena. I was blown away how much better they made the photos. The clarity popped right up. With the combination of the Pocketwizards and Speedlights, I was able to light up most of the rink without issue. Since I was running on 1/4 power, I was able to shoot at ISO 1250 and achieve a nice balance between the ugly green/yellow lighting of the arena and the nice polish of the flash. Once I got the 3rd light set up, I was having a good old time. I couldn’t believe how much better the shots were. It was like shooting in a professional arena with their huge lights. I would have prefered my strobes to be high on the ceiling, but that’s okay. I like the drama the shadows add.

Going for the knockout
Going for the knockout

There was another photographer there from Utah last night. He was using on-camera flash, but the light fall-off from his vantage point was so bad that the rest of the arena looked dark. In my class, I talk about how to achieve a nicer balance. If he would have boosted his ISO to 1600, he could have achieved a good balance between his on-camera flash and the arena lighting. Granted, the on-camera flash would have still been unflattering, but at least his shots wouldn’t look like they were shot in a cave. If you’re reading this, I have a DVD available for sale that would help you out!

I’ll have to try some rear-sync stopped motion at the next bout. That should give some even more interesting shots!

Nikon D800 firmware update

AF-ON
AF-ON

A new firmware update is available for the Nikon D800/e. You can go to

This link

scroll down to D800 or D800e, to download firmware 1.10.

One of the major updates to the camera is the ability to do trap focus. What is trap focus you ask? It’s the “special mode” using the focus as the activation method for shutter release. When you activate menu option A4 and select AF-ON only, you will force the shutter release to only trip the shutter but not activate the auto focus. When the menu option is set to Shutter/AF-ON, the shutter release will both activate the focus system and trip the shutter release.

With A4 set to AF-ON only, the back AF-ON button is the only button on the camera that will activate the focus system. This is very handy when you want to completely decouple shutter release vs the focus system.

Why would you do this? Lets say you are waiting for an object to come into focus and, for whatever reason, you don’t want to refocus the camera. When you have the AF-ON only option selected, you can hold the shutter release down  and wait for the subject to come into focus. Once the object is in focus, the shutter release will trip and you will have your shot.

This acts like a “trap”, where you are waiting for something to spring your shutter release. It’s possible to use a cable release and lock the shutter release and walk away, waiting for something to trip the shutter. It’s a somewhat esoteric use, but it can be handy. This option is also great for sports shooters.

One thing I found about this action is that the response of the camera seems to be a little slow. If I pass through the focus area too quickly, the camera won’t lock and fire. This can  be attributed to the option selection in A3, Focus tracking with lock-on. I have my camera set to normal, so it waits a little while before refocusing and shooting. When I select 1 (Short), the camera responds more quickly for trap focus. Not much more, but a little bit.

This mode requires some experimentation but can be very handy for sports and action shots. It’s well worth playing with to have in your arsenal for your D800 and D800e shooting arsenal.

Moon eclipse with Spica

Click for larger picture
Click for larger picture

The full eclipse of the moon as viewed from Eagle, CO, was a sight to behold. At first, when the full moon rose at 7:30pm MST, it looked spectacularly large on the horizon. Though this is only a visual effect and the moon was no larger on the horizon than it is straight overhead, the effect is still stunning.

After waiting for hours, the moon began its slow progression into darkness, moving from the outer shadow of the Earth (penumbra) and through to the inner shadow of the Earth (umbra). Once the moon was fully eclipsed,  it turned to a copper color. Some describe this as a “blood moon”. I enjoyed watching the transition from daylight bright to a deep, ruddy color.

There are several enjoyable aspects of a lunar eclipse:

  • You can look straight at the moon and not damage your eyes
  • They “seem” to be more frequent than solar eclipses
  • The effect is chilling

One beautiful part of this eclipse was the moon was a few degrees from Spica in the constellation Virgo. At first the moon was bright enough to overwhelm the 15th brightest star the sky. But as the moon fell into the Earth’s shadow, that imbalance changed until Spica, a giant blue star, gracefully complementing the scene.

For the photographers out there, here is what I shot with:

and the settings on the camera were:

  • ISO 640
  • f5.6
  • 1 second

DSC_D8_4036 star trailThe thing about shooting with a 180mm telephoto lens on a full-frame sensor body is that shooting any longer than 1 second causes the sky objects to begin leaving tell-tale streaks, better known as star trails. Also, I wanted as much sharpness as I could get out of my 180mm, so I shot it at f5.6 rather than f2.8. At effectively infinite distance, the depth of field didn’t matter, but the smaller aperture made for easier focusing. It also helps reduce or eliminate halos around highly contrasted subjects, too.

As can be seen in the extreme crop at the right, the star is no longer a point but rather an oblong shape, indicating the 1.6 second shot was too long.

Ansel Adams shot moon
Ansel Adams shot moon

An hour after the moon rose on the horizon, I photographed it as a comparison point against the eclipsed version. Using Ansel Adam’s oft-quoted formula, I knew exactly the exposure I wanted to put the moon in Zone VII to make it properly bright without being blown out. Here are my settings:

  • ISO 100
  • f11
  • 1/60 sec

Those settings or a proportionate variation will give you great full moon shots. The exposure setting has to do with knowing the luminance of the full moon is 250 cd/ft^2. Using that setting as the shutter speed, one can place the moon in Zone V. But that makes the moon gray. So to make the moon a bright but not blown out Zone VII, all I have to do is drop the shutter speed 2 stops, from 1/250 – 1/125 – 1/60. A perfect moon every time.

Note that with a setting of 1/60, a lens like the 180mm will be blurry due to handholding. This is where both the tripod and exposure delay come in. Even on a tripod, shooting that slow with a long lens will show vibration. Adding mirror lockup is even better. The initial vibrations damp out from the shutter slap. Then, depressing the shutter release again, the D800 begins its 3 second shutter delay. For really long shots, I’ll even use the camera’s self timer and set it for 10 seconds with mirror lockup.

Happy moon photography!

Drying out soaked lenses

Very wet Nikon 50mm lens
Very wet Nikon 50mm lens

During the Snow King Pond Skim contest, my Nikon 50mm f1.8 received a thorough soaking. My D800 stood up to the water perfectly, except that a little bit of water was in the microphone port, so the sound was muffled.

The perpetrator
The perpetrator

The skier who did the soaking was quite skilled, as he was able to drown myself, the people standing around me, and the two babies sleeping a few feet behind me. At least they were sleeping before they received a face full of 40 degree water. We were standing in the splash zone, so it was fair that we were wet. It was something you have to accept while standing there.

I searched around to find the best technique for drying out the lens quickly and effectively. Most people said to put the lens in a Zip Lock bag with some rice and wait a few weeks. As I need this lens, I need something a little bit quicker. So I thought to put the lens in a bag and leave it in the sun. That sounded great, but a winter storm hit yesterday, so I couldn’t do anything but watch snow fall.

Lens drying setup
Lens drying setup

So, I figured out to use a candle warmer, a mug, some rice, and the lens. The candle warmer gets too hot and would melt the lens. That’s bad. And I needed a desiccant to draw the water out with. With a mug acting as a heat conductor, and the rice acting as an insulator, I found a way to very quickly suck huge amounts of water out of the lens. The one trick was to leave the lens face down rather than F mount side down. I didn’t want water drawing through the body of the lens.

After 2 days, the water that was sloshing around inside of the lens is gone. Now there are only a couple of water spots inside of the front element. Not too bad for a complete drenching. This technique saved me from having to purchase a new lens. All I have to do is figure out how to remove the lens front mount and clean the front element. That’ll be another blog posting once I figure out how to do it properly.

Snow King Pond Skimming

American beer surfer
American beer surfer

To commemorate the end of the ski season, Snow King Mountain Resort puts on the Pond Skimming competition. It’s not as much of a competition as an exhibition of ski, snowboard, tube, and sled skill. As there weren’t any prizes other than Snake River Brewing giving away free beer, there weren’t too many physical rewards for this competition.

Make sure to click the photo at the right to see it full size. This guy was awesome, confident enough to skim across a 70 foot water pond with his beer, knowing he would not spill a drop. He did amazingly well, able to get across the pond without taking a header.

Very wet Nikon 50mm lens
Very wet Nikon 50mm lens

Being the intrepid photographer, I had to get in the line of fire and get these side shots. All of the other photographers were sitting safely at the end of the pond, where they were very safe from getting wet. For the two hours I spent watching the competition, no skier or snowboarder was able to soak the end crowd. The other photographers warned me that the sidelines where this photograph was taken were going to get very wet. They were right.

There were several water spray shots taken at my position where the crowd was. Twice I was able to shield my lens right at the pivotal moment. My D800 handled the water without even blinking. But the third spray from a very zealous teenager soaked me, my Nikon 50mm lens, and all of the people around me. It was actually pretty funny except for the two toddlers sleeping in a stroller behind me. They received a rude, 35 degree water wakeup. Their mom thought they were back far enough. But alas, that was not the case with a crazy skiing teenager.

This was definitely a Jackson event, with all the ski types out in force. I found the crowd to be quite enjoyable and cheered everyone on. When people took diggers into the pond, the same crowd “ooo’d” when the contestant disappeared under water.

DSC_D8_3482smSnow King was smart enough to have safety swimmers with wet suits standing on the sidelines to recover people as they went under. These off-duty ski patrol were quick and able to keep anyone from becoming a casualty. One videographer I know, Nick Staron of Jackson Adventure Video, participated in the pond skimming competition.

“When I hit the water, it just took my breath away,” Nick Staron said.

I got a good laugh out of that. Even though it was sunny and 40 degrees, the water could not have been much above 35 degrees. Even with the sun out, that’s still cold no matter what. It was a great event.

As for my soaked Nikon 50mm lens, hopefully my warmed rice dehydrator trick will recover it. Good thing I didn’t have my 85mm f1.4 lens on. That would have been a crying event.