Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Black Hole


The past six months of my life have been something of a black hole, sucked up by a mountain bike race in South Africa called the Cape Epic.  During the three months leading up to the race, I biked an average of 1000km a month, climbing over 37,000m... and it still wasn't enough.  I failed to complete the race with my teammate.

It wasn't a total loss.  I learned a lot too.  Still photography is difficult to do on a bike, and even more difficult to involve a viewer in the action.  But strapping on a small video camera to capture moving footage on a bike is relatively easy to do and easy to involve the viewer, and I so began the  process of learning how to shoot video.

GoPro HD Hero
I bought myself a GoPro HD Hero camera with various clips and attachments, and a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 with 14-140mm kit lens, a Panasonic 7-14mm f/4.0 wide angle zoom, and a Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 Pancake Lens.  I also bought Final Cut Pro X, and along the way, learned that the iPhone 4s makes a pretty good video camera ;o)

Since my Cape Epic race was a bust, I thought I'd show you a couple of my training trips, and share a little of what I've learned about shooting video on a bike.   Keep in mind I'm still learning this stuff, so if you've got some feedback for me, I'd love to hear it.
Olloclip Quick-Connect Lens with Glif Tripod Mount

Here's an early trip in December last year.  I shot this entirely on my iPhone 4s and edited the footage on FCP X.  Since then, I learned that the iPhone makes an excellent bike touring camera.  With IOS 5.0, you can turn on the camera and shoot one handed.  It's not really wide enough when shooting video as the iPhone crops down a bit, perhaps because of the image stabilizer.  I'll probably buy the Olloclip Quick-Connect Lens Solution,  which gives you 3 lenses in one - fisheye, wide-angle and macro lenses.  I probably also pick up the Glif Tripod Mount which I can use with a small Joby Gorillapod.



This second video is from a trip to Northern Thailand in March this year.  I had learned a little more.  Compare this video to another from an earlier trip to Thailand in February Here.  In this one, I've incorporated a greater variety of shots and blended them better into the action.



There are many places you can mount a GoPro.  I tried to incorporate a variety into the final production.  In this video, I shot from my helmet, forwards and backwards, used the Chest Harness, shot from under the down tube and from the handlebars.  If I have a preference, it is to shoot mainly from the helmet.  It collects less dust and water that way, and can be slightly more stable than from the handlebars, and can be changed quickly to face either forwards or backwards.  Also, If you need to handhold the camera, it is easier to remove your helmet and shoot holding your helmet with the camera on top than it is to unscrew the GoPro from the handlebar mount.  Putting your helmet with camera on top also makes a good impromptu tripod.  Because I can't see what I'm shooting, I generally shoot in 4:3 mode (960p Tall Mode r4) and then crop to 16:9 if possible during post-processing.

Here's what I would do more of in future:
1. More pre-planning;
2. Use copyright free music;
3. Steadier shots with a tripod;
4. Clean the camera lens more often;
5. Risk more - attach the camera lower on the bike to show wheels, or derailleur.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nikon D800: Hey, Who Moved My Cheese?

Nikon D800
 Wow! 36MP and one of the best performing sensors we have ever seen, the Nikon D800 is a game changer.  Some are saying it's too much camera.  It's not.  In a few years, 36MP won't seem like a lot, and if you buy the D800 now, it 's likely you won't need an upgrade for a few years.  The question I'm asking myself is: Do I need this camera NOW? 

Like many others, I'd been waiting anxiously for the D700 replacement for a LONG time.  It never came.  Instead of taking Canon's approach of making smaller, evolutionary changes to their product lineup, Nikon has chosen to take a revolutionary step up.  The thing is, when I examine my needs (how I shoot, and what I shoot for) I don't really need the D800 now.   

To me, the D800 is more like a medium format camera in a smaller, lighter sized body.  I would have to employ medium format techniques and the best lenses to maximize the potential of the D800.  That means I would have to slow everything down, maybe use a tripod, and use heavier, 'professional' lenses.  It's also a touch slow at 4 frames-per-second out of the box.  There's a DX mode, which looks useful for someone transitioning out of their cropped Nikon bodies, but it's not a reason why someone buys this camera.

The D800 would really suit a variety of commercial photographers: like wedding, portrait, product or nature; where the subject isn't very active, and the end result requires very high resolution with a very high dynamic range.  For travel and adventure, I need a camera that is more versatile.  My D7000 is lighter, shoots at a higher frame rate out of the box, and gives me more than enough resolution for stock photography and magazine prints.