Eco-Tourism: Video shoot for ‘Le Casuarina’, Kangaroo Island

I’ve always loved Kangaroo Island– from my first taste of it with my family back in the 1980’s, to the numerous visits paid in the last few years. Recently, Emma Sterling and I had another reason to travel there- to produce a series of promotional videos for a holiday home called Le Casuarina. Since this was to be a new endeavour for us, we decided we would make a number versions of the piece, demonstrating what could be done for a variety of budgets. Called as I often am by nature, I couldn’t resist spending time in the garden filming bees and birds, hanging over the ferry bow shooting dolphin… and along with interiors, exteriors, some peopled shots and stills, we came home with a hefty volume of footage.

The main distinguishing feature of our deluxe package (above) was the use of models and actors, and the video’s extended 3 minute duration. Stylistically, placing people in the video creates a much more personal ‘lived in’ feel for the property, and also helps hold the viewer’s attention for longer, with a suggestion of story. It does so at a price though, and working with actors is costly and more difficult to schedule than shooting bricks, mortar and the surrounding environment. Local filmmaker David Mackey (who I first met many years ago when I storyboarded his short film $um Assault) and his wife Belinda Mackey, a talented South Australian model and actress, both volunteered their time to play as guests of the house. Tess O’Flaherty, another talented local actress performed the voice-over once we’d returned to Adelaide, and the score was created using a great software package called SmartSound SonicFire Pro. While I’m a musician myself, SonicFire was able to save me countless hours of composition and recording time, and allowed me to conveniently export versions of the song at four different durations and with variations in instrumentation. Nice.

For the ‘standard’ version, another fine local actress Michelle Nightingale volunteered her time and talents. As you will see, many of the shots are the same as in the deluxe version, and there is much common material in the script. The whole process would have been much faster to turn around if we weren’t so obsessed with riding the bleeding edge of production techniques though! We shot all the footage on our new Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000 , and the pictures looked great. Since it is sold as a ‘Dual Camera’ (a hybrid of digital still and video) it offers traditional photographic control of the video image (aperture, ISO, shutter-speed) and offers the kick-ass bonus of recording FullHD progressive footage (1920 x 1080). We shot everything in the highest resolution and frame rate (1080p at 60 frames per second) without any expectation that our editing software, Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 would struggle processing it.

Sure enough, whenever our 1080p editing timeline reached about a minute of content, the program would crash. We purchased and installed the MainConcept MPEG Pro H.264/MP4 plugin and enjoyed improved results, but still could not get more than about three minutes of material onto the timeline without toppling the system. This is on a powerhouse i7 920 cpu, with 12 Gb of RAM, might I add. Admitting defeat after experimenting with countless variables, Emma edited the project in segements, down converting slabs of footage to 720p resolution, and re-importing them into a 720p timeline. We floated the two longest clips online yesterday, and as always, have spread the word using Web 2.0 platforms, most notably Facebook and Twitter to help get the pieces circulating. With any luck, we’ll be able to follow this job with more commercial work along a similar vein armed with the knowledge to just shoot 720p resolution footage in the first place… at least until the next patch for Premiere Pro is released.

If you’d like to know a bit more about Le Casuarina, please visit the property’s website.

Dan Monceaux

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Digital Cameras: Shooting underwater with Panasonic’s DMC-FT1

Back in May, while touring as video operator on the childrens’ theatre production ‘WOLF’ I was able to take my new point & shoot Panasonic DMC-FT1 camera underwater and put it through its paces. I was so impressed (astonished really) by the quality of both video and stills that Emma Sterling and I decided that it was high time to commence production on a marine conservation documentary. We have wanted to make this film since way back in 2003, and at last, technology has caught up with our demands.

The cost of shooting high-quality video underwater was prohibitive back then, but now not so- as the Panasonic DMC-FT1 can be used ‘out of the box’ in water to 10 feet of depth. Wanting to go deeper, Emma Sterling and I also bought the matching waterproof housing and have since taken the camera to depths around 8 metres with brilliant results. The whole kit (camera and housing together) cost less than AUD$1000. Inside the housing, the camera is able to handle depth and pressure to 40 metres and has a cold shoe on top to mount external lights on, making it a pretty serious instrument. Panasonic was confident enough in the camera’s abilities that they shot their own TVC for the camera on the camera itself. Check out the latest one below.

When shooting in the Southern Ocean, even when the visibility is brilliant, a blue colour cast dominates. This is remedied by the FT1’s ‘underwater’ mode. Comparable to the technique of slipping an orange glass filter behind or in front of your lens in a traditional rig, the setting restores warm palettes of colours to the image in a very satisfying way. There are occasional instances where the colour balance shifts unnaturally during a shot, but these are infrequent- and a small price to pay for such an affordable and powerful 720p HD camera with 12 megapixel stills capacity. For those of you unfamiliar with the camera, it presents itself as a digital point & shoot stills camera, but offers serious punch for still and moving picture making.

Another neat feature of the camera for underwater video use is its constant white LED. Providing pleasing fill during daytime shoots, this can be switched on or off manually or set to ‘auto’ and diffuses remarkably well (despite the reputation of white LEDs for producing very directional and hard-edged beams of light). While this feature works beautifully in up to ten feet of water, the optional deep water housing’s design obscures the light, rendering it useless. The cold shoe will provide external light-mounting options though, for the serious dive photographer or videographer. Metal buttons (while poorly labelled) provide full button control of the cameras features, and a generous viewing screen make it a pleasure to wield below the briney blue.

Giant Cuttlefish camouflage
Giant Cuttlefish camouflage

I can’t disclose too much about the film we’re making at the moment (especially while we’re still in production) but here are a couple of still photographs taken with the camera. The rocky reefs of the upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia provide the setting, and all images are taken with ambient light exclusively. Nominal photoshopping- just a little tweak of the contrast levels. If you want to know more about the camera, scoot over to Panasonic Australia’s Lumix website … there’s currently a competition running where one in five Australian buyers wins a nice widescreen HDTV with an SD card slot- ready to play your videos and photos straight off the disc!

Jellyfish
Jellyfish

Dan Monceaux

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Digital Cameras: SANYO’s HD video range packs serious punch

In my last post on HD video, I made a flippant remark about SANYO’s peculiar shaver-like video camera design approach. Since discovering SANYO’s part in the great consumer HD video race, I’ve since read numerous reviews and spec sheets and I’m starting to take the brand pretty seriously. Definitely much, much more than an average camera with a wacky chassis, SANYO’s packed some serious punch into its Sanyo Xacti VPC-HD2000 . While I’m yet to get my hands on one, they’re hitting stores now, and I for one am excited by the possibilities.

*NOTE: I have since purchased this camera, and have shot several commercial videos with it.

Rather than rehash countless camera reviews, I’m going to cut straight to the features that raised my eyebrows on closer inspection. For starters, it’s a full HD 1920x1080p video camera, and apparently the first of its kind to offer 60 frames-per-second slow motion. For me this gives my old Super8 cameras the jitters, especially since the whole kit even handles like a Super8 (with a pistol grip and trigger action). Beyond that, the camera can shoot ridiculous slow motion speeds at lower resolutions, including 240 frames-per-second at the awkward resolution of 448 x 336, and the real killer: 600 frames-per-second at 192 x 108. This is giving the slow-motion trailblazing Casio Exilim EX-F1 (which steps up the rate one more notch to 1200 fps) a pretty good run for its money!

One review described the camera as producing great footage in low light, another appealing feature for me, as I shoot a lot of footage at dance parties, nightclubs and video installation events. The specs say it rates at ‘2 Lux’ sensitivity, which places it at the front of the pack (most certainly for its price). Apparently the menus are uncluttered (and also uncomplicated) but with a terrific shutter/frame rate range, 10x optical zoom (16x ‘advanced’ zoom) I’m not wanting for extra features. As a B-camera on documentary shoots, this camera looks like the business!

SANYO are really making some noise with their new line, and if you want to see the arsenal and hear from a SANYO rep himself, check out the video below… hot off the recently past 2009 PMA event in the USA. I’m going a little camera crazy here people… these are exciting times.


Cameratown Video – Sanyo HD Video Cameras – PMA 2009 from Ron Risman on Vimeo.

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