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Latest additions 5/14/12

The scoop on hD SLRs and notable cameras
Camera manufacturers wishing to be reviewed by real-world photographers please see the Info page.

So far, all of the HDSLR cameras are fine DSLRs. Interchangeable lenses & reflex (or similar) viewfinders.
Their still image capabilities are generally excellent. 
We are focused here with their use in cine, movie, HD and time-lapse image gathering.

For all previous Camera stories, CLICK HERE.





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Not an HDSLR.

It travels. 
It’s inexpensive. 
It shoots 12 MP stills. 
It shoots 1080p at 24 fps.
It shoots 720p at 30 fps.
It shoots 480p at 120 fps. 
It’s small. 
It has exceptional image stabilization.

Click the image for more.

Four Words: 
Go. Pro. Hero. Two.

It’s out. 
It’s new. 
It’s better. 
It has new menu items.
It has 100 and 120 fps.
It has new features. 
It’s small. 
It’s big.

Click on the camera to read the detailed review.

Three for the road. 9.3.11
A look at three potential road video warriors, none of which are full classic HDSLRs:

Mini HDSLR-ish-like product:


Cute. Plus.

Panasonic’s GF3 is a $700 (body), extra-pocketable 4:3-format interchangeable-lens, 12 MP, mirror-free, MOS-chipped, ISO 100-6400, continuous AF, SD memory card-using, 11 oz, 319g, Micro four-thirds-mount camera that comes in red, black, white or, as you see here, brown.

It can take any four thirds lenses via adapters, and is often purchased with the fixed-focus 14mm (35mm equivalent of a 28mm wide-angle optic) lens.

Things you wanted to know include:

Everything in the first paragraph.
Flash on-board.
1080i60 from 1080p25 sensor output (Darn it!) in AFCHD recording.
720p60 from 30 fps sensor output (Double darn it!) in AVCHD recording.
720p30 in Motion JPEG.
LCD monitoring only.
Mono mic.
Typical Panasonic low moiré.

Rangefinder HDSLR-ish-like product:


Sometimes a camera is nearly everything you wanted. When DSLRs became HDSLRs, it was because movies could be shot with that chip. No big mental leap, there, but the cameras still looked like DSLRs and had flippy-mirror optical viewfinding. That’s all very well and good, but in movie mode, all that mirror stuff is a doorstop. It wasn’t until folks woke up to fast, super-resolution video viewfinders that things got more interesting. Now ideas are branching out into new territory.

Fujifilm has introduced a tiny, versatile, light weight (12.5 oz with lens) pocket camera with a combination of features HDSLR shooters can be happy to see. The coming X10 is very small, very sweet and very friendly.

The body plan is a Leica-like rangefinder setup. Optical viewing is by a punch-through optical viewer, and through the lens viewing is via the large, articulated 3” LCD. The sensor is not an APS-C, or even a 4:3 format chip. It’s a 2/3” (8.8 x 6.6mm) pickup, but the fixed lens is extra nice with 28-112mm coverage (35mm equivalent) that shoots with f/2 to f/28 over the zoom range. 

Things you wanted to know include:

$700-ish. Half the price of the outstanding APS-C X100.
12MP sensor with 4000 x 3000 pixels.
6MP mode.
October 2011 late.
Motion Panorama mode.
1080p30. 720p30. 480p30. H.264 MOV format.
Stereo mics.
Optical image stabilization.
Macro down to 1.0 cm. (0.4 inches)
ISO 100-12,800
256 zone metering.
Flash on-board.
10 fps max stills.
Up to 400% dynamic range boost. +3 stops extra shadow/highlight.

Late Awakenings:


Sony has been working with two sensor formats. Full frame, 24 x 36mm, and half-frame, the roughly 18 x 24mm (so-called APS-C) sensors that capture EXACTLY the same optical characteristics of 35mm cine cameras. 

Their 2008 Alpha A-900 was the only full frame model. Perhaps it was a lesson learned for them. All the DSLR models since then have been APS-C. These cameras inherited the Minolta mount which is now the refined Sony Alpha lens mount.

Like a child that takes his or her time coming to grips with talking, Sony has not spent much effort in riding the HDSLR wave. They’ve played with APS-C movie-format cameras (NEX-VG10 and NEX-VG20) and have included video on many, many of their consumer still cameras, but they waited until 2010 to incorporate video into cameras with interchangeable lenses (NEX-5, NEX-3) and waited until 2011 to place video into their DSLR-style cameras (Alpha 580).

But when they went video, they went WAY-video. Their upper-end HDSLRs have incorporated 1080p60 format plus other options. 

Now they have shrunk the body plan, skinnified the lenses and come out with a camera that deserves a standing ovation (which is not a term for laying an egg while on one’s feet). 

The NEX-7 (out in November for $1350 with lens) shoots stills up to 24MP on its Exmor™ CMOS sensor with ISO 100 to 16,000. The body plan is rangefinder style, and it views through the lens with its OLED “Tru-Finder™”—an ultra-sharp video display that sucks the breath out of your mouth—or via the articulated 3” LCD with about half-HD resolution. 

Cine modes include 1080p60 and 24 fps or 1080i60. You may choose Sony’s odd HDV-like format that saves 1440 x 1080 frames at 30p, as well. Not a lot of use for that. Compression choices include 1080p60@28Mbps, 1080p24 at 24Mbps, 1080p24@17Mbps, HDV-like 24p@12Mbps or 480p30@3Mbps. Notice the lack of 720p anything. Perhaps the NEX-9 will have 720p240?

Things you wanted to know

Stereo mics on board.
AVCHD video with MP4 for the HDV-like format.
Still images at 10fps up to 6000 x 4000 pixels.
16:9 stills up to 6000 x 3376 pixels.
Medium stills are 4240 x 2832 (12M) and Small are 3008 x 2000 (6M).
25 auto-focus (AF) points.
1200-zone metering!
10.3 oz. / 291g. Plus battery, media and lens.
Memory Stick (of course) + SD/SDHC/SDXC cards!
Sweep Panoramas up to 12,416 x 1,856 pixels.
Live histogram.
Sony E mount. Can adapt easily to Alpha lenses.
On-board flash.
Pocket size ish.
AF tracks objects, people, dogs, cats, birds.
Best shot feature takes 6; combines data; saves best.
Dynamic range optimization.
Oled viewfinder has 2,359,000 pixels. Full HD.
Big Alpha lens adapter adds Phase Detect AF (costs $400, weighs 7+ oz).
Kit E-mount lens 18-55mm is f/2.0-f/2.8!

Must See Imaging


Vincent Laforet is a legend in HDSLR-dom. First to wow us with Canon 5D Mark II short films. First to shoot at impossible night ISO speeds. Now he is playing with the Red Epic. If you missed the Red Epic Class, its a camera only slightly larger than most HDSLRs, but it can shoot at a bunch of different resolutions while gathering near-RAW frames at elevated frame rates.

Combine that with a Canon 600mm lens, a Canon 2X tele-extender and Red Camera’s new (prototype) fully-operational electronic camera mount and you, too, could be shooting with electronic control of aperture, focus and image stabilization. In other words, Red has done the thing we all wanted to see; they’ve turned their cine camera into a completely auto lens-aware camera, thus bridging between HDSLR lenses and movie cameras. All those great features we still photographers have long enjoyed are now ready to go in a top-end movie camera without adding five more pounds of external servo motors and support hardware.

At its core, the Red Epic is a 14 MP still camera, too. That’s a “5K” image in cinematographic terms, over 5000 pixels wide with a horizontal chip measurement of 27.7mm. 

This time, Vincent went to Mono Lake and waited until after the sun went down. The evening sky glow was his light, and the end-of-day wildlife became his subject. As you watch the result, you can see him playing with various lens features. At an optical 1200mm, or 35mm still camera equivalent of around 3400mm, the lens’s IS feature helped a lot. And he opted to shoot at ISOs from 800 to 2000 while collecting images at up to 120 fps.

Click on the image to see it in 720p30 on Vimeo.

The WINNER! But of a different contest.


When Panasonic first announced the AF-100, we were skeptical. The package looked like a lump. The plain slab design appeared—in our words—”derriere ugly.” The only thing that could save a homely child like this would have to be sheer performance.

Above right, the fugly prototype image. At left, the final product; not half bad. Wait a minute. That doesn’t look like a still camera at all.

Surprise!  It’s not. Nor is it the AF-100 is the Susan Boyle of HDSLRs. It’s a Micro Four Thirds format CINE camera with no aspirations of becoming or replacing an HDSLR. 

It just happens to use the same optics one would fit to 4/3 still cameras such as the Panasonic DMC-GH2, a mirrorless HDSLR that can be had with a lens for about $1K.

It views the world through a custom 2.07 MP MOS image chip that is optimized for HD 1080p frame gathering. And, boy, is it optimized. Viewing is live electronic by either eyepiece or flip-out 3.45-inch HD monitor screen. Image chip sensitivity ranges from ISO 200 to 3200 with low noise throughout. Recording playback feeds out via an HDMI plug and an SD video jack that displays a reduced-scale image. Focus and iris can be controlled with wired remotes.

It shoots in 1080p24, 1080p25, 1080p30 (29.97), 1080p50, 1080i 50 and 1080i60 (59.94). If you wish, you can gather images in 720p60, 50, 30, 25 or 24 fps. Note that 720p images are exactly 75% of the dimensions of 1080p images. No interlaced options are available for the reduced frame size, but you could easily convert 720p60 or 720p50 clips to interlaced, if desired.

Recordings are captured at 21-24 Mbps at the highest setting using AVCHD PH mode, the High Profile standard. Why it’s not “HP” mode is something you’ll have to ask Mr. AVCHD. The Good News is that recordings are MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 and your 64 MB SDXC card will hold about 6 hours of movie clips. Or you could drop down a notch and shoot in HA mode (do NOT laugh) in which only 17 Mbps is consumed, and get 8 hours of very nice looking results.

Okay, okay, OK. Let’s say you are on safari and you rilly, rilly have to stretch the boogie out of that SDXC card. Would you believe HE mode (there is no SHE mode) that simulates HDV image recording (1440 x 1080), yet still looks quite nice, if not perfect, and gives you 24 hours of image?

Better yet. Get TWO SDXC cards and install both at the same time. Now you have doubled the recording times. Both SDXC and SDHC cards are supported. In emergencies, regular SD cards will work. Class 4 cards are needed in all forms. With multiple cards, you can switch from one to the other during a shot.

A variable frame rate function lets you over- or under-crank as you shoot in 20 repeatable steps. If you shoot in 1080p60 and playback in 1080p24, you see a nice 250% slow motion result. If you play back in 1080p30 mode, you see a 200% slow motion scene. Or shoot as slow as 12 fps for effect or later speed up.

Want time lapse? It’s in there, too. One shot every 1/10/30/60/120 seconds. Not as flexible as some might desire, but useful. No bracketing intervals, though. For that, see your DSLR.

For those of you with Final Cut Studio, you can take the 1080p60 footage and process it with Motion for truly amazing slow motion effects. Just remember to shoot with a higher shutter speed than normal so individual frames are not smeared in time. Manual shutter speeds are available out to 1/2000 sec.

Frame rates include all these: 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26,27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 44, 48, 54 and 60. In 50Hz mode, you can also achieve 23, 37, 42, 45 and 50. What’s missing? Ramp up to speed. Well, that’s why you got Final Cut Studio.

A major shortcoming to most HDSLR cameras is their limit on dynamic range. Highlights are easy to lose in bleached-out, pure white areas. But the extra-large sensors on the MOS image chip are also extra wide in their dynamic range. A set of gamma modes lets you choose cine, video, and five others to tweak image gradation in the camera. A “Dynamic Range Stretch” function helps you control shadow and highlight tonalities to recover crushed extremes.

Note: This is not a poor-man’s RED camera. You can’t grade shots with abandon. It’s best to treat problem scenes BEFORE the signal is turned into MPEG/AVCHD whenever possible.

More Good News: There is zero color moiré in AF-100 shots. Zip. It’s what you always wanted from HD but were afraid you wouldn’t ever get. This is a large-format HD camera. One that delivers cinema DOF and dynamic range. 

To help with that, it includes a number of professional features. A built-in ND filter gives ND 4, 16 and 64 attenuation for 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64 shutter speed changes. You need that to maintain more wide-open bokeh in shots taken in sunlight. A tape measure hook is above the lens for studio shooting. The grips snap off the camera body to lighten the load. Audio inputs are Canon plugs for pro gear lashups.

For all you Steadicam enthusiasts, the AF-100 weighs just 3.5 lbs with battery and wide lens. Well within the Steadicam Merlin envelope. The 14mm micro four thirds f/2.5 is equivalent to a 28 mm wide angle lens on a 35mm still camera. That’s a good starting place. There are others, including a 7-14mm zoom and a host of other Panasonic and third-party cine optics:

Now for the Bad News. The AF 100 will set you back five grand. Without a lens or SD card of any kind. But with a battery and charger. There’s that at least.

Philosophically, this camera really doesn’t fit the HDSLR idea at all. What makes an HDSLR is the combination of still and movie modes. But it does feed on the things that HDSLR photography has brought into our lives; large format images in motion with real 35mm movie frame physics and optical characteristics.

Once that bridge had been crossed with HDSLR cameras for low bucks, the race was on. Cameras like the AF-100 are not simply evolutionary, they’re an inevitability.

For all previous Camera stories, CLICK HERE.GoPro_Hero_HD.htmlCameras_2.htmlCameras_2.htmlGoPro_Hero_HD.htmlhttp://vimeo.com/27212799shapeimage_4_link_0shapeimage_4_link_1
Nikon Supercam D800

2.27.12 The Rapturecam HDSLR lives.

Three grand. That’s the entrance fee to the camera that delivers more than any other.

While the recent Nikon D4 inherits all the so-called Pro features, including monster ISO realms and 10 fps 18-megapixel images and complete lack of on-board fill flash, the D800 at half the price delivers 36.3 megapixels in FX format and shoots HD 1080p30 to 720p60—and everything in between—in both FX and DX frame sweeps. Meaning that you can jump your telephoto lens to 1.5X closer with a menu tweak. And that is just one tip of a very large iceberg. It has a flash, f’rinstance.

Combined with Nikkor’s stunning 14-24mm f/2.8 ED optic, you can burrow into an image 7360 pixels wide and get a pixel-perfect shot like this. Be aware that when you click the previous “this” you are in for a 22 megabyte download that you can wander around in for many minutes.

More on this as time goes by.

New eBook
also iPad friendly

Click on the Cover for a
FREE Copyhttp://www.digitalsecrets.net/secrets/eBookCS5/ActionsCS5-Fast.pdfhttp://www.digitalsecrets.net/secrets/eBookCS5/ActionsCS5-Fast.pdfhttp://www.digitalsecrets.net/secrets/eBookCS5/ActionsCS5-Fast.pdfshapeimage_7_link_0shapeimage_7_link_1shapeimage_7_link_2
Not A GoPro 2: $139
+$5 shipping

An expired WOOT! purchase of the Swann FreeStyle 1080p Action Cam has yielded a true BARGAIN! (Regularly $280 MSRP and around $210 in various internet sources.)

It’ looks superficially like a GoPro Hero, and has only been out since November, 2011. It does many of the same things—attaches to your skull, clips onto this or that, shoots a Very Wide, but not so fisheye-like image with not as much bulge, dunks underwater an ungodly distance.

And the price: low, low, low.

Shooting 1080p30/25, 720p60/50/30/25 or WVGA, its images are sharp, clear, wide, much less barrel-distorted and technically Very Good. Stills shoot as 3 MP, 5 MP or 8 MP files and timelapse settings of 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30 and 60 second intervals are easy to set, capturing images at whichever size still you have set.

Image quality is about one knotch below that of the GoPro 2, meaning you can, will, and probably already did see them on broadcast HD TV shows.

It comes with things missing from the GoPros:

  1. BulletTripod screw in the naked camera base. So you can shoot without the housing. Yipee!

  2. BulletSimple tripod screw in the housing bottom. So no tilt-base link needed on a tripod.

  3. BulletIncluded (although tiny) LCD viewing/playback screen. Not $90 extra.

  4. BulletSensible button ergonomics. Not perfect, but better.

  5. BulletSeparate Still and Video release buttons. So you don’t go mad in the menu jumping from one to the other.

  6. BulletLaser centering beam. So you can have a red dot in the middle of the image? A press of the shutter release for 3 seconds turns it on or off—even while shooting video. Nice.

It also comes with various mounts that stick to flat surfaces or the curve of a protective helmet.

The sticky bases work on glass, auto paint and smooth plastic, and are easy to apply and a bear to remove. Slow-motion peeling techniques help. The warmth of a hair dryer may assist. Only the curved helmet base can be adapted to lashups with straps.

Since the camera and housing have their own tripod sockets, the mounts are designed to add connection between sticky bases and camera. One has just a simple tripod screw (in the picture above perched on a flat sticky base). Another has two vertical articulated joints for positioning and one horizontal link for leveling. A third has a curved extension about 2.5 inches, presumably for car interior window mounting. The camera self-levels in 90° jumps, so shooting upside-down is easy. But if you leave the Menu’s Time Display > On, you get printing on all images.

Things it doesn’t have that GoPros do:

  1. BulletExtinguish the record lamp option during shooting. I use black tape to cover the red LED.

  2. BulletRemember the date and time during “Default Reset”. &^%$#@!!

  3. BulletComplete menu control and display feedback when the camera is secured inside its waterproof, dust-proof, crash-proof case. &^%$!

And here are some that could exist, but don’t:

  1. BulletSynchronize the laser centering dot with the brief moments the video image is not gathering light, in bright enough surroundings. Rolling shutter may void this idea, but somebody, sometime will add it to video and/or cine cameras with true “blanking” between frames.

  2. BulletA lens cap. Sadly, the conical section between body and lens front is tapered, defeating mounts of all kinds.

  3. BulletA lens shade for video. It would look like a wide-angle lens tulip shade, with the real function of keeping your fingers away from the front glass.

  4. BulletA filter mount. That front glass is flat. Thin filters might work.

In many ways the Swann is easier to work with. In other ways it is not. Why, it’s almost like the FreeStyle Sport and GoPros were designed by different groups!

At full pop, the Swann FreeStyle is $280. Close to a GoPro 2 with no view screen. This makes the Swann a very good alternative. Discounted prices tend to hover around $200 (B&H), but it was nice to get the extra $55 off with ours.

While the Swann’s lens is less wide than the widest GoPro shooting 1080p, it’s close to the so-called 127° setting, and in bright outdoor light, the shots look quite good. In available darkness, who thought grain would NOT be present—show of hands?

Shoot in 720p or WVGA and you get a wider, more fisheye image. About on par with the widest from a GoPro 2. And with every image size, you get a High and Low recording quality option labeled Bitrate.

For 1080p, the choices are 12 mps or 6 mps. For others, you can select either 8 mbps or 4 mbps. Careful, the lower option seems to engage a rather bad compression artifact that shows as a key frame about every 15 or 20 frames. It’s not a good thing. And even at the higher option, it shows a bit of that keyframe artifact. Hopefully Swann gets busy on its next model in this regard.

Here’s something you can read nowhere else: The GoPro mount for the Steadicam Smoothee adapts to the Swann simple tripod mount. It takes an assembly of parts from all of the articulated arms to make a mount that suspends the naked camera a tad over 3 inches (83 mm) above the Smoothee’s upper frame—and you need the GoPro Smoothee Mount ($25 in Amazons everywhere)—but it WORKS. You will need to fuss with balance and weight issues, but IT CAN BE DONE. I did it. And it shoots fine.

No doubt Swann is getting these FreeStyles out of stock for some coming Hot Next New Cam, but if you see the deal again, jump on it. I wonder if the next one, Swann 2, will answer our grumbles and/or suggestions. Stay tuned.