Category Archives: Video

Apple is falling farther and farther from the tree

My first blog post in 2012 (my how time flies) was titled “What’s up with Apple” and was about Apple’s failure to address the needs of its Pro users with a timely Mac Pro update. The next year Apple did put out an update but it wasn’t what I needed or wanted, or even wanted to look at for the next who knows how long. I mean it was ugly in more ways than one. I mean it looked ridiculous, was not modular in the way Pro users would want. It had no internal storage to speak of, no PCI slot expandability, no easy way to connect to my eSata boxes, no good GPU upgrade path. I mean this thing was a complete disaster. I took a pass on it. Phil Shiller crowed about it, making his famous stupid comment “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass”. What’s that saying, “Pride goes before a fall”? Anyway, Phil has been eating much crow lately. He pretty much admitted that the 2013 Mac Pro was a mistake and that it wasn’t upgraded for over 3 years because its fundamental design concept was wrong. Perhaps the newest MacBook Pro failure was the tipping point where Apple realized that all was not well with the computer division and that maybe they should start paying some attention to what Pro Users were saying…or at least those who had not already left for Windows 10.

Meanwhile, I stayed with the 2010 tower, replaced the dual processor tray with a custom 12 core 3.46 GHz processor, a Quadro 5000 GPU and 64GB of RAM plus a USB 3.0 card. Ironically it looks like I can use Nvidia’s newest GPU while “trash can” Macs can’t. Oh the irony…

Apple’s problem now is that they really can’t innovate in a way that is meaningful to pro users, despite what Mr. Shiller says, because that light went out at Apple October 5, 2011. Tim Cook may be a lot of things, but he is no Steve Jobs, and neither is Phil Schiller.

Anyway, Apple now says they will produce a new more modular Mac Pro, but not until 2O18. That is somewhat good news, but I am skeptical about how that will work out and perplexed that it would take them that long. Basically if they took the old tower design, added USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports, maybe added a PCI slot or two, miniaturized as much as possible without hosing functionality, then they would have something good. How long can that take? I mean my son built a killer gaming PC in one day after waiting 2 days for the parts to arrive. I mean, really! How dysfunctional has Apple become?

A Scary Adobe Premiere Pro Story for a video editor’s Halloween

Video editing is not for the faint of heart. Being somewhat masochistic, my video editing workstation is an older tricked out Mac Pro. I like the fact that I can have 6 hard drives in it (although I have two 5 bay Burley eSata boxes attached as well).

I’m not sure if having an older Mac adds to my problems, however, as the tales of woe are equally heard from all corners of the Mac and Windows world, and in fact maybe more so from the newer Macs. I do know that the Achilles heel of the older system is the lack of development of graphics cards, and that fact will most likely be the reason I will have to get a more modern machine at some point.

The challenge video editors face is the constant barrage of updates from both Apple and Adobe. I’m not sure if either company is aware of the mayhem they create when they constantly release inadequately tested software out into the world. It’s gotten to the point where I keep both a separate daily operating system clone and an hourly Time Machine backup, because you never really know when the bad stuff is going to happen, only that it will, and often. I delay updates as long as possible and surf the Apple and Adobe complaint forums regularly before committing to updates from either company. Even with that strategy, things can go seriously haywire at almost any time.

I had maybe the scariest experience I’ve ever had with video editing just the other day. I was finishing up an Adobe Premiere Pro project, just tweaking a few things here and there and doing some final vimeo targeted exports when Premiere crashed for no obvious reason. I got the usual message that Premiere would attempt to recover the current project, which it does by making a copy. OK, been there before many times, but this time when I opened the copy project, I got an error message that the current project was “unavailable on the disc”. I clicked OK, not really knowing what this meant (or how this could be) and the project opened. I soon discovered (there should have been “Jaws” theme music) that apparently the dynamic link scenario had become corrupted because every project opened as the crashed project, not the named project. It appeared that Premiere was methodically trashing every project I had ever done! Even the auto saved copies were opening as the crashed project in its current form, so it appeared that all the backups were hosed as well. Fear and loathing really set in when this behavior was repeated when opening projects from my current video projects backup drive.

Although it is hard to stay calm when something like this is happening, I did have the presence of mind to do a restart from my clone drive. I let out a huge sigh of relief when Premiere Pro worked normally when I was booted from the clone. I realized that Premiere Pro had corrupted itself and the dynamic link as a result of the crash, so the path became clear, I’d need to uninstall Premiere on my boot drive and then re-install it. I had the uninstaller trash the preferences while it was at it.

After the reinstall, everything was back to normal. I felt like the character in “Occurrence at Owl Creek” where he says “I’m a living man…”

Afterwards, however, I was having less charitable thoughts about Software that has the possibility of doing such a thing. The main issue with both Adobe and Apple is that they don’t seem to have very robust testing in place. So this Halloween, in addition to things that go “bump in the night” one must always be ready to deal with murderous software…

Canon 70D DSLR for filmmakers

Although I switched to Canon from Nikon before the DSLR video revolution, I’ve generally been well served by Canon’s offerings as I moved more and more into documentary films. I currently use 5D II cameras with Mosaic video aliasing filters, a 1D IV, and now a 70D (also with a Mosaic filter). Although the 5D II has slightly better video quality than the 70D, the 70D has a killer app with the new dual pixel auto focus, which is coupled with an articulated LCD with touch screen functionality. The Mosaic filter, in my view, is a necessity since moiré in video is really unattractive.

What is exciting about this new technology is that, in general, you can forget about needing any kind of follow focus device. The focusing is accurate, smooth, and most importantly, doesn’t hunt. There are 3 focusing modes. The first two, face recognition+tracking and FlexiZone AF [ ] (Canon’s terms), are great for shooting movies where you let the camera keep the main subjects in focus. You would choose one or the other depending on whether faces or whether objects are the most important. The really interesting mode, in my opinion, is the third one, which Canon labels FlexiZone☐.  The little box represents the focus point and the best thing about it is that you can touch the articulated screen to change that focus point. If you are shooting video, this results in a smooth rack focus effect from one focus point to another. This same feature can be use in the face detection + tracking mode if for instance you wanted to rack (and then track) focus from someone in the foreground to someone in the background, or vice versa.

One instance where this auto focus ability is really key is when I have the camera mounted on a Jib. Instead of having to rely on depth of field, or even having to climb up on a ladder to check focus, I can now move the Jib all over the place with no focus worries.

Another instance is when I want to run two (or more) cameras by myself. I can manage focus pulling on one camera and I can let the 70D track focus on its own. So far, it has done a great job of that.

The only wish I have now is for Magic Lantern to create firmware for this model so I can get all those ML functions I use on the 5D II back. As a side issue, it kind of boggles (my mind at least) that Canon hasn’t opened some line of communication with the Magic Lantern folks, or even licensed the technology. It’s great that they have done the innovations that they have done, but the slow pace of innovation over at Canon hints at a corporate culture that isn’t particularly clever about certain things. And while they’re at it, maybe they should speak with the Mosaic Engineering folks as well…

Adobe Premiere Pro cut & paste bug & the work-around

When I started to experiment with shooting and editing video, I researched the various editing programs and decided to focus on Adobe Premiere Pro. That was about 3 years ago and the version was Premiere Pro 5.0. Most everyone I knew was using Final Cut 7 so I had no one in my circle of friends who could provide any kind of instruction or tech support. Being on my own, I have relied on Lynda.com for the core information, and that has been supplemented by various YouTube videos and Google searches.

Although the learning curve has been steep, I am generally happy with what I can do in Premiere Pro. I’m also happy to report that each new version gets better. However, a nasty (and shockingly obvious) bug emerged with the latest version (6.02). If you are working, as I am, on large documentaries, you often wind up with a series of smaller projects, which will be integrated into the larger project. I had used this workflow quite successfully on my first documentary film, The Sudden Pianist, with no problems.

Although Premiere doesn’t allow for two projects to be open at the same time, I found that if I opened a project, selected & copied a sequence (or portion of a sequence), I could open the main project and copy that section into the timeline. In the project panel, the relevant bits and pieces would appear along with the copied sequence or portion of sequence. Brilliant!

However, after the latest update, I was working on a new commercial project and discovered that while copy & paste seemed to work as before, when I saved and closed the project and then reopened it, the imported sequence audio had a strange appearance. It had turned all red, and worse, it had no visible waveform and even worse, didn’t play back. It seems the Adobe Dynamic link had broken somehow.

At first, I tried taking the audio offline and manually re-linking in the project panel. No Joy. Then I discovered that by right clicking on the red audio, I could right click to “reveal in project” which selected the audio track in the project panel, and then I could right click again, select “replace with clip” and select “from bin” in the drop-down menu. This fixed the audio, so Big Sigh of Relief. However, I found that you have to do that 2-step process clip by clip. This can get really tedious very quickly.

Finally after a bit of Googlizing, I ran across this YouTube video.  Following the link posted under the video took me to this discussion. A poster named d_rob outlined a quick and easy solution which is as follows:
• select ALL the affected audio
• Right click and select “Audio Channels”
• Change the “Source Channel” drop downs to either right or left channel to match the original assignment.

Here is a screen shot:

Adobe Premiere Pro cut & paste bug

Adobe Premiere Pro Screenshot

The current bug is for the source channels to get changed to “none” when the clip is pasted into the other project. Changing them back to match the channels in the track fixes the problem. Although this is clearly a bug and Adobe will probably fix it, at least this work-around will save you much consternation (and time).

How Adobe can let such an obvious bug out the door is a subject for another time.

Vimeo, the service you love to hate.

Video and The Internet have formed a symbiotic relationship, each one driving the other. The rampant success of You Tube created a need for more sophisticated video hosting, and vimeo has gained a lot of traction as the arty alternative for many of us photographers turned filmmakers.

The great thing about vimeo is the community that has sprung up around it.

The bad thing about vimeo is that, although they have three levels of service, (free, Plus and Pro levels), they don’t make any provision for enhanced customer service with the extra money paid for the Plus and Pro accounts.

This would not be a problem except that hosting video content seems to have quite a few technical pitfalls. Things go wrong with uploads and streaming quality on a fairly regular basis and when that happens, you are at the tender mercies of a small handful of folks who address your concerns through an online forum: https://vimeo.com/help. Unfortunately, vimeo doesn’t provide telephone or even online chat support.

About six weeks ago, I began hearing from viewers that some of my vimeo hosted videos were not HD by default even though they were all HD in size. HD could be turned on, but you’d rather not have your viewers have to do that, besides, many might miss that, and go ahead and view the video in SD.

As soon as I realized there was a problem, I went on the vimeo help forum. One of the disconcerting aspects of this help forum is that you will get several people responding. Some of them seem to have read the previous posts on the issue, but not always, so you feel like you have to keep explaining the problem and all its nuances. It would be far better IMHO if vimeo would put one person on the issue and have them stick with it until resolved.

The second disconcerting aspect is that the default response assumes that you did something wrong or have some incorrect setting. It usually takes a few rounds of posts before the vimeo “problem sorting team” actually does some testing on their own. In fact it took three weeks before vimeo acknowledged that my issue was an actual “bug”.

The third disconcerting aspect is that vimeo seems to be constantly overwhelmed with technical issues. Reading through their help forum makes it clear that they play “wack-a-mole” with technical bugs day in and day out.

As of this writing, vimeo still doesn’t have an answer other than to say “This is one of the more challenging bugs we’ve been trying to sort about because there are just so many variables. Our developers are in fact trying to pluck away at this issue and we’re moving as fast as we can to have it sorted out. We know how frustrating this must be, and I do sincerely apologize.”

Oh, and they gave me one free month on my Pro subscription, so maybe they do get customer service after all.

YouSendIt sucks Bandwidth & the work-around

Seems that living the digital life, as we must do now, requires us to deal with a steady stream of curve balls. When digital delivery of image files became mainstream a few years ago, I was very happy not to have to make those end of the day screaming runs to the nearest FEDEX box.

All was good until recently I noticed that when I sent files via YouSendIt, a popular FTP utility service, the rest of my internet activities came to a halt. YouSendIt (YSI for short) would max out my upload bandwidth and the result was that I couldn’t even send or receive emails, much less follow up on Kim Kardashian’s latest fashion mistakes while idly waiting for files to be delivered.

If it was just my digital life that was on hold, it wouldn’t be so bad, but I share the network with my web designer wife, and she gets in a really bad mood when the Internet shuts down. At first, I blamed Comcast, my ISP, since they have been implicated in nefarious plots to “shape” web traffic. Maybe they had me figured for a uTorrent type and threw a switch every time I hit “send”. Hours of tech calls convinced me that Comcast wasn’t to blame, so I turned my attention to YSI. Their tech people finally admitted that it was possible that their express service, with its increased upload speed, could use up all the available bandwidth.

What YSI really needs to do is either limit the upload speed to something like 80% of available bandwidth, or better yet, provide an upload throttle -much like vimeo does- so that the user can choose the ratio of speed vs. lack of internet for him/her self.

Since that though hasn’t occurred to the YSI folks yet (or maybe they don’t want to go to the trouble to implement it) I searched for a work-around. I found that web based FTP utilities, including the YSI web based utility sent files at about 50% of the upload speed of the YSI Express application so the problem was avoided, but at the cost of double the time to send files.

My current strategy is to use the web based YSI during the day (especially if the web designer was online) and to use the Express application late at night or when the resident web designer was taking a lunch or gym break.

If anyone out there has other thoughts or solutions, I’d love to hear them. You can email me at: richard@richardandersonproductions.com