DJI Ronin Disappoints

ronin promo

After hearing fantastic things about the DJI Ronin 3-axis stabilized gimbal system, and being wowed by the demo videos on the DJI website, I was looking forward to using one on my own projects. Sadly, my experience couldn’t have been worse: not only will I never use the Ronin again, I will probably not use ANY gimbal system.

Here’s what happened: I hired a Ronin and operator for a shoot, intending to use it for a week-long commercial project. This particular owner/operator has delivered terrific footage for colleagues of mine, so operator error was not an issue. Indeed, he set the Ronin up quickly enough, but once the camera was in place, the bad news started coming.

First of all, once gimbal was balanced, I discovered that I couldn’t plug an audio cable into my camera, because the weight of the connector would throw the gimbal off balance. It was – barely – possible to plug in a video monitor, but only if it was jury-rigged to the top of the Ronin itself. In my 15+ years of commercial video production, I have NEVER come across a piece of professional-grade equipment that does not allow for audio/video monitoring of the camera. This particular fact – which, to me, is of huge importance to anyone who is shooting anything other than pure b-roll – has been omitted from everything I’ve seen written about the Ronin.

Secondly, trying to get the Ronin to hold the camera at a tilted angle (for a low-angle tracking shot) turned out to be almost impossible, as it (naturally) kept trying to make itself level. Apparently, there’s a “second operator mode” that allows for this, but neither the Ronin’s owner nor anything on the Ronin website had indicated that this was the case.

Finally, after my clients had watched me and my crew waste almost the entire morning struggling with this gadget, I made the decision to pull the plug. I apologized to my clients, my crew and I set up a traditional dolly & track in about 20 minutes, and we got the shot we needed, flawlessly.

Later on that day, I decided to give the Ronin a second chance. Since the audio and low-angle factors had been such problems, I tried to use it to stabilize some hand-held, eye-level b-roll shots. In order to do this, the Ronin’s owner tried to convert it to “Upright” mode, so that the camera could be held at eye-level, but the device refused to cooperate, continually trying to flip itself over. At that point, I gave up completely on the thing.

Hindsight being 20/20, after the shoot, I spoke to my colleagues, who basically said things like, “Oh, yeah, of course, you need a prep day to get everything tuned up for your camera. Then it’ll be great.” Naturally, nobody – including the owner/operator – had mentioned this to me ahead of time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or inclination to baby-sit temperamental electronics. I need gear that works the way I want it to work, every time I need it to. So, for now, I’ll stick to good ol’ dolly, crane, and tripod, and I might take a closer look at some of the steadicam-style gadgets on the market.

Basic Audio Processing in Adobe Audition

A friend of mine recently edited his first TV commercial, and got this note from the TV station:

I wanted to let you know about the latest spots I just put in the system. The quality, especially of the audio, is quite bad.
The audio levels swing wildly from quiet to loud throughout, making the quieter parts hard to hear because I have to set the levels for the louder sections. Some of the audio also sounds like it was recorded a bit hot and distorts a bit. Also, some of the voiceover and stand ups audio only comes out of the left audio channel rather than both.

Ouch! Fortunately, aside from the audio that was recorded “a bit hot” and distorted, all of this can easily be fixed. Audio purists may be horrified by my approach, but it’s quick and effective.

Is Tamron’s 17-50mm f/2.8 The Perfect Blackmagic Lens?

Ever since the original Canon 5D MkII opened up the world of accessible large-sensor video, it’s been hard to stomach the reduction in field of view that a cropped sensor demands. I absolutely love the image quality that my Blackmagic Production Camera captures, but the 1.7x crop factor made it a challenge to keep working with the same lenses that I used with my 5D2.

For example, my go-to lens for wide-angle handheld work with the 5D2 has always been the Canon 20mm f/2.8, and my favorite general-purpose lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. But neither of those lovely pieces of glass work the same way on the BMPC, because of the crop factor.

After investing in a couple of new lenses (plus digging an old 8mm Peleng out of my closet), I set out to do a side-by-side comparison to determine what lenses I can count on, and which I should leave in the bag.

First up was the Peleng 8mm. I bought this Soviet-era marvel years ago to use with a Krasnogorsk 16mm film camera. I had used it for a couple of fisheye shots on my Canon 5D, but I’ve really never had much use for it.

Here’s what it looked like. For each lens, I’m showing a scaled-to-fit image and a 100% crop from the ProRes HQ 4K video file.

8mm 01

8mm 02

While the ultra-wide angle is impressive, and the vignetting could be dealt with, the lack of clarity in the image would be hard to justify for any serious production.

Getting Decent Audio Out Of The Blackmagic 4K Production Camera

bmpc audio meters

Last week, Blackmagic announced that their v1.9 firmware update for the 4K Production Camera would include audio meters. This was met with great rejoicing by camera purchasers who have been struggling with the amazingly bad audio functionality of this otherwise exemplary device.

Let me preface what follows by mentioning that I have used a lot of cameras and audio equipment over the last 20 years, and the Blackmagic Production Camera is by far the absolute worst. Not only are the onboard preamps noisier than the worst DSLR – meaning that using anything more than 10% gain will result in audio so full of hiss that is almost totally unusable – but the input tolerance seems to have been calibrated for some kind of alien technology. Every type of signal I fed into it was either clipped or inaudible – and often both!

Armed with the new audio meters, I resolved to test the BMPC’s finicky sound circuits more systematically.

“Media-Proof Kids”

As digital content creators, sometimes we come face to face with Pogo the Possum’s famous observation, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In a cultural landscape drowning in endless advertisements, hypnotic entertainment, and overwhelming information, are we making the world better or worse?

As a parent, I felt forced to ask myself, “How can I use what I know to help my children defend themselves against manipulative media?”

About a year ago, I started researching this topic. Today, I am very proud to introduce my new eBook, “Media-Proof Kids: A Guide For Parents.”

Quick Tip: Title-Safe/Action-Safe Guides in Premiere Pro

I can never remember how to turn these guides on, so I’m posting this as much for my own benefit as for yours. In the upper-right of the program monitor in Premiere, there’s a fly-out menu that allows you to turn on title-safe/action-safe guides, as well as all the other monitoring options.

title safe premiere

Recent Work: Doctor’s Promo Video

Here’s a simple promo video that I recently finished for a local doctor. All I shot was the on-camera presentation by the doctor. Photos are either provided or from stock.

While I was as pleased as ever by the cinematic quality of the Blackmagic footage, I was disappointed to see quite a bit of moiré in the fabric of the doctor’s shirt. I was able to disguise most of it by masking off the shirt in Colorista II and setting the sharpness filter set to a negative value, but you can still see it if you’re looking for it.

Blackmagic 4K Production Camera – Second Impressions

Here’s a regional commercial for a local bank that I just directed & shot with the Blackmagic 4K Production Camera. The client was looking for the slightly desaturated, shallow depth of field look that is popular in high-end national spots. It was a perfect opportunity to use the BMPC.

A couple of quick notes, now that I’ve been using the BMPC for a few weeks.

“Save Me” Music Video BTS

Note: Frequent visitors to this website will recognize the name Matthew Ward. Matt is a friend of mine from college, who now works on amazing projects in Hollywood. When he isn’t working on VFX for Robert Zemeckis or DP’ing animated features, he directs & shoots music videos for his favorite bands. Case in point is this rockin’ production he created a few weeks ago.

Matt describes his work as “a serious production with limited tools,” and that uncompromising quality shows in all his work. Luckily for us, Matt was generous enough to share an exclusive Behind The Scenes look at the production of this video, just for CrewOfOne readers!

- Alex

Crew of One: Matteus Clement

Most of us work in creative fields because we like being creative, not because we wanted to become accountants or salespeople. Unfortunately, most of us wind up wearing those hats as well. The following is a post by Matteus Clement, an independent video pro located in Vancouver Island, Canada. Matteus has taken an innovative, flat-rate approach to budgeting his videos, and has generously agreed to share his insights, as well as a sample of one of the production agreements he and his small-business clients sign off on.

If you struggle with the “business” side of the photo/video business, you’ll find Matteus’ approach very interesting. Whether you agree or disagree with his approach and his pricing (keep in mind, his prices are in Canadian dollars), it’s terrific food for thought.

Enter Matteus:

I’ve been producing videos ever since I went overseas in 2003 with my Canon Z60 DV tape camcorder. It was only three years ago that I decided to take the plunge into my own business, Mazo Media. Since then, I have learned a lot of new video techniques because of necessity and learned a lot of business practice from mistakes.

I have found that a flat rate quote system works much better than an hourly/daily rate (at least in my region). I believe that most owners/managers find peace of mind in a fixed cost as opposed to a project that can balloon out of control.