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The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look

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The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
A Creative COW "Real-time Report" Review


Sony EX1 XDCAM EX
Dylan Reeve Dylan Reeve
Auckland, New Zealand

© CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus: Creative Cow Contributing Editor Dylan Reeve says that the EX1 is another Sony breakthrough. A truly professional camera, the XDCAM EX1 offers format and workflow advantages previously unseen in other small cameras. Dylan will show you how the camera works, and how the footage works with your favorite NLE, while also looking ahead to the PMW-EX3.

Sony entered the solid-state arena late last year with it's XDCAM EX format. (Paying attention? That's XDCAM, XDCAM HD and now XDCAM EX). XDCAM EX is currently a solid-state-only format, shooting on a new memory card format called SxS (S-by-S) built on the ExpressCard interface format. It's a bit like the P2 you know, but smaller (physically) and faster, but not currently as widely available -- although if you have a recent MacBook Pro, or a nice new PC laptop, then there's a good chance you'll have a slot).

In looking at XDCAM EX we have three things to look at; the format (Long-GOP 4:2:0 MPEG, the media (ExpressCard high-capacity, high-speed sold-state flash memory) and the camera (the PMW-EX1 fixed-lens small form-factor 3-CMOS camera). So let's begin at the beginning, with the format.

 

The Format

XDCAM EX builds on XDCAM HD, which in turn builds on HDV. So it's a Long-GOP MPEG-2 codec, with 4:2:0 colour sampling.

For many people there's an immediate aversion to Long-GOP formats, as we associate it with the poor performance of Long-GOP formats like MPEG-2 DVD video where blocking can be immediately seen in fast motion and complex detail. But with more advanced Long-GOP codecs (like HDV, XDCAM HD and now EX) those problems become increasingly rare. Even first generation HDV exhibited very strong performance in trying conditions.

That was first generation, and only 25Mb/s – now we're at least a few generations down the line, and working at datarates around 35Mb/s. Even in trying conditions EX holds up very well.

Click image for 1920x1080. Note: full-size image is jpeg compressed for the web.

Spilled water captured with XDCAM EX1

 

However it is a compressed format, and it can be seen if you look for it, but more on that later.

Previously HDV and XDCAM HD have supported thin-raster 1440x1080 video. This is pretty common for HD acquisition. But the EX format introduces support for full-raster 1920x1080, as well as 1280x720. It does this with a 35Mb/s variable bit rate codec (HQ mode in EX terminology).

 

The Media

Sony and SanDisk teamed up to produce SxS. It has immediate similarities with Panasonic's P2 – the most obvious being that is uses a computer-extension interface (like P2's Cardbus) rather than a memory-specific interface (like SD or Compact Flash). It's a sturdy and largish memory card, not easily lost – a little over half the width of a P2 card, and a little shorter.

Sony SxS cards for the EX1 and EX3

SxS being a PCI-Express-based card is capable of very high data transfer rates -- up to 2.5Gbit/s, but limited by physical read/write speed limitations. Sony also plans to license the format to other third-party manufacturers, which should ensure good supply and competitive pricing.

ExpressCard is the replacement for the older Cardbus format. It is now the only external interface on new MacBook Pro notebooks, and many PC laptops. For computers without ExpressCard interfaces, Sony offers a USB reader for the cards, and the EX1 camera can also operate as a USB reader.

USB reader for XDCAM EX solid state media

Sony has also announced the new PHU-60K, a 60GB hard drive unit designed to interface with the EX3.

 

New hard drive for the EX3.

 

The Cameras

The cameras are the big thing in the XDCAM EX offering. The first offering is the PMW-EX1 - it's a handheld fixed-lens camera, not unlike Sony's own Z1 but it's a huge step up. The camera is branded as part of the Cinealta range alongside Sony's F23 and F900 digital cinema cameras. It features the same gamma curves and has been developed out of that end of the company, rather than the group that gave us the PD150 and Z1.

The most immediately obvious thing about the camera is its lens. It's a Fujinon 14x5.8 lens, featuring real manual zoom and iris rings, but even better than that, a genuine manual focus ring, with distance markings and everything. It's the lens we've always wanted to see on one of these cameras.

Fujinon lens for the XDCAM EX1


Beyond the excellent lens, the camera also features a large and vivid LCD screen, adjustable zoom handle, and an HD-SDI output. It is clear this camera has been designed as a scaled-down professional camera, rather than a scaled up consumer camera. Although the quality of the viewfinder is not great at all, this is probably made up for by the great LCD.

I should point out that it was widely reported that early model EX1 cameras featured a 'vignetting' problem. My friendly Sony rep assures me that the error was very limited and that that serial range of all potentially affected cameras was known. The issue can be corrected in service, but the error is apparently very hard to spot. While my camera is apparently within the range that may possibly be affected, I certainly didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. It seems that this problem is certainly a past issue now.


Click image for 1920x1080. Note: full-size image is jpeg compressed for the web.

Rain on leaves


But the EX1 looks likely to just be the beginning. Sony recently announced the next camera in the EX lineup. The PMW-EX3 (perhaps the EX2 never quite made it) has features that are very similar to the EX1, but with important differences. Most obviously, it is a little larger and has a physical profile that resembles the Canon XL1.

Sony PMW EX3

 

But beyond that, there are a few big bullet points for this camera. The much-maligned viewfinder is gone. Instead, the much-lauded LCD has become a unique LCD/Viewfinder hybrid. Perhaps the biggest and best feature of the EX3 is the lens. It comes with the same great lens as the EX1, but it comes off. And with a (probably supplied) B4 adapter you can use any existing 1/2” broadcast lens.

 

The Pros

There are many positive features of the format and the EX1 (and the EX3 when it arrives), but the ones that stand out most are:

*Full Raster* – With the ability to record full 1920x1080 images from a full 1920x1080 native chip, this camera stands alone in its field.

*Record Time* – Even on the basic 8GB cards, the camera will record around 28 minutes of 1080p footage on a single card, or nearly an hour with a 16GB card.

*Lens* – The EX1's lens, despite being a fixed lens, offers full manual control. The EX3 will feature a removable lens and the ability to use professional lenses.

*SDI* – With HD-SDI out the EX cameras offer full resolution monitoring, and also a raw 4:2:2 feed from the camera head for those more demanding situations. (Chroma key springs to mind.)

*Quality* Despite many people's misgivings about Long-GOP codecs, the EX codec seems to perform very well and certainly holds up well under normal conditions.

*Cinealta Gamma* – Eight Cinealta gamma curves provide good options for 'film look' shooting.

*Variable Framerate* – Depending on record mode, the EX1 supports frame rates from 1 to 60fps.

*Card Availability* – While only Sony-made SxS cards are currently supported, Sony assures us that support for third-party cards will be available soon, and increasingly other manufacturers will offer SxS cards after Sony's initial development partner SanDisk).

*New Interface * - The ExpressCard interface on which SxS is built is the new standard for external bus interface, and is increasingly the only extension slot offered in new laptops. It can be easily incorporated to modern desktop computers.

Click image for 1920x1080. Note: full-size image is jpeg compressed for the web.

Close-up of finger and watch, taken with EX1

 

The Cons

Nothing is perfect, and of course XDCAM EX has its drawbacks. A few are:

*New Format* – This will become less of a problem, but right now the fact that EX is new means that it can be difficult to work with.

*Solid-state* – Generally a benefit, it should also be considered that solid-state recording in general can increase the complexity of production and post-production.

*Ergonomics* – While the EX1 is a very well developed camera, there were a few ergonomic issues that bothered me – most notably the zoom handgrip, which has a bit that digs into my thumb. Many of these issues will cease to be a concern with the EX3.

*Compression* – The relatively low bitrate does mean that compression must be quite heavy. While not visibly obvious, the evidence of compression is certainly there to be seen.

*Color Sampling* – 4:2:0 sampling means that the effective chroma resolution is only half the full frame resolution. However this method does deliver very good results in most situations.

*New Interface* – The ExpressCard interface on which SxS is built is quite new, and certainly not as widely available as the CardBus format.

 

Click image for 1920x1080. Note: full-size image is jpeg compressed for the web.

Auckland by day with EX1

 

The Nitty-Gritty

In general, looking at the footage from the EX1 on a Sony LMD-2450W 1080-native monitor, the images from the camera were very impressive. They look sharp and vibrant and exhibit no obvious motion or compression artifacting, even on rapid movements.

However on close examination of still frames from the transferred images there is clearly some mosquito noise within the frame and on areas of high details and contrast. However in practice this noise is not at all evident in playback or at regular sizes.

One big concern with EX1 (and CMOS cameras in general) is Rolling Shutter. Essentially, because the sensor is read one line at a time, top to bottom, it is possible to have unusual motion or strobe artifacts.

On a fast pan, for example, vertical objects can look slanted because the image as moved horizontally in the time it takes to read from the top to bottom of the sensor. With strobes and flashes the effect is quite different. Depending on the length and timing of the flash the image can appear in only part of the frame. With a strobe light this may result in the lower half of a frame exhibiting the result of the light flash, while the upper half is still dark. Overall the rolling shutter issues are fairly specific and don't tend to have any impact on most shooting situations.

Transfers from the cards, even reading via USB2 from the camera is fast and easy. In a native ExpressCard slot the speeds should be eve quicker. Copying the raw card data from the card to a local hard drive is easy and works well with provided XDCAM management software.

NLE support is still in development, but at present it is supported in Final Cut Pro 6.0.2 (with a Sony-provided transfer tool.

Native support for Avid is not yet available but it's been promised. In the meantime, one crafy EX1 user has found a way to create Avid media from the EX1 files using a freely available opensource tool. The process is detailed on his blog (http://www.bolanski.com/ex/home/ffmpeg-is-your-friend). While this is a useful solution for small numbers of clips, it becomes difficult and ineffective on any larger projects as in converting the media any timecode or metadata connection to the original footage is lost.

Support in Adobe Premiere Pro is available through third-party tool, MainConcept MPEG Pro 3. Canopus Edius Broadcast has native support from version 4.6 onward. Sony's own Vegas Pro also offers native support.

Click image for 1920x1080. Note: full-size image is jpeg compressed for the web.

Auckland by XDCAM EX

 

Working with EX

As far as getting the media into your editing workflow, there are a few options. You can use the camera. It can operate as a USB2 device, visible to your computer as a simple external drive. Or, buy Sony's SBAC-US10 SxS USB2 reader for about $250.

If you've got a modern notebook computer, there's a good chance you have an ExpressCard slot already. If you want to add support to your desktop computer, it is easy an inexpensive assuming you have a PCI-Express slot free – you can pick up a standard PCI-Express to ExpressCard adapter for around $60 which will add an ExpressCard slot to the back of your computer. Or for about $140 you can get front-mounting ExpressCard reader.

If you are purchasing third-party hardware to work with SxS it's important to make sure it supports PCI Express-based ExpressCards, as the SxS cards are not compatible with USB-only ExpressCard hardware.

 

In Summary...

The Sony XDCAM EX family, including the EX1 and EX3
Click image for 1920

XDCAM EX takes the HDV concept a few steps further with a higher bitrate, an improved codec, full 1920x1080 raster and a solid-state acquisition. It implements a MPEG2 4:2:0 Long-GOP codec at 35Mb/s VBR (HQ) or 25Mb/s CBR (SP), and offers resolutions of 1920x1080, 1440x1080 and 1280x720, and supports the full range of framerates in both 50Hz and 60Hz systems

The EX1 camera brings professional lens features to a fixed-lens camera, and captures the image on 1/2” 1920x1080 native CMOS sensors and offers the pedigree of the Sony Cinealta range at a very affordable price. The EX3, due Q3 2008, offers all the same features, with improved ergonomics, a larger form factor and support for interchangeable lenses.

XDCAM EX's SxS memory card format is designed around the most currently external bus interface and offers very highspeed data transfer using a native bus interface. With additional manufacturers licenced to produce the media, it's likely that media cost will drop in the future and help to avoid supply issues.

The XDCAM EX format is a big step in for cameras in this area of the market. The EX1 marks the same sort of big change that other groundbreaking small cameras before it have, including Sony's own VX1000 and PD150.


All footage grabs in this article are courtesy of Lance Wordsworth.

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  Sony XDCAM - EX & Related Tutorials   •   Sony XDCAM - EX & Related Forum
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Re: The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by soumya sitaraman
Dylan,
Could you please ell me how to enable a disabled menu item?
My video display out in the video out menu (media) got accidentally disabled and I cannot watch the output on any external monitor.

I have a PMW- EX1R
Be grateful for a solution!
Thanks,
Soumya
Re: The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Cris McRae
Hello Dylan,

the Video Set menu of the EX1 has a setting called 24P System and you may choose between 24PsF and 60i. No where in the manual does it cover how this choice affects the video. and what is 24PsF?

thanks

Thanks
Cris is Bliss
C.I.B. Visual Productions/K3 Films
Rough Luxury Records
Re: The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by pamela heller
How complicated is it to use with Premiere Pro?
Thanks for your responses.
Re: The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Samuel Adebari
Great closer look into the EX1 and EX3. Thanks a lot
Least expensive reader for SxS Pro
by John Snyder
Is there a less expensive reader for the Sony SxS Pro card.

The Sony USB is $275.00!

Thanks

John
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Paul Dymon
Great article, not so great camera. I like the sharp picture and fast lens, but...
How can Sony call it CineAlta? That's nonsense and any PRO shooter will say so. This is a good camera but 4:2:0 will never be professional. We are moving toward MORE data while Sony stays with long-GOP? Why? Because the pro-sumers are actually con-fessionals, having been sold a bill of goods. Just try a simple tripod pan and tell me how good HDV is, then try posting it. Sorry, but I don't buy a product because of the LOGO. I shoot P2, a professional format with professional results, acceptable to professional broadcasters. HDV is not broadcast standard! Buyer beware!!!!!!
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Paul Dymon
Hi Dylan, I agree it is their Brand
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Dylan Reeve
CineAlta is Sony's brand, they define what it is and what it takes for something to be called CineAlta.

However, as for 4:2:0 - it's perhaps not ideal, but then the alternatives aren't briliant either perhaps. HDCAM is 3:1:1. DVCPRO HD is 4:2:2 but horizontally subsampled to 1280x1080 or 1440x1080 depending on mode, which actually makes it more like 2.66:1.33:1.33 or 3:1.5:1.5 - and then there's the HVX which has a smaller CCD block (not sure exactly what the pixel count is, but it's certainly pixel shifted, there is fewer than one photosite per pixel - 960x1080 is a number I've seen quoted around.

As for Long-GOP - it is a proven method, and with 35Mb/s we're in pretty firm territory. Granted I've seen talk of issues with panning movement, but nothing stood out in my tests.

Compare with DVCPRO HD - quoted at 100Mb/s but what's not said there (at least with Varicam, and I believe it applied to P2 also) is that that rate is for 60fps, or a total of 1.66Mb per frame. So for 25fps you're looking at only 42Mb/s which isn't that much for an intraframe compressed codec.

Every HD format I've worked with has it's own quirks and issues, XDCAM is not exception, but writing it off based solely on sampling and compression method isn't really beneficial.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by richard ladkani
Hi, I also posted this in the Cine Alta HD Forum


I recently tested the Ex1 to the Sony HVR Z7 to the Panasonic HVX201AE and found some very interesting problems regarding the EX1. We shot all kinds of scenes incl. Indoors, Outdoors, Sunset, Dusk all in 25p...and watched all the results on a Baselight System projected in 2k on a big cinema screen. The tests were done for an upcoming cinema documentary.

At first we all loved the EX1 for sharpness, latitude, color rendition and especially for its low-light capabilities. But all this love went away when we looked at shots were the camera moved. On slow pans across f.e. a green grass in the foreground and a city in the background the image suddenly went totally blury. At first we thought the camera was out of focus but as soon as the camera stopped the stellar sharpness was back. On the next telephoto pan across the city skyline all detail was lost as long as the camera moved. It was just a big blur. But it wasn't motion blurr due to the 25p it was a compression issue. On a shot watching cars drive through the frame the cars looked like ghost images. Totally unsharp but when I started panning with the cars the were totally sharp again. What was the worst though was panning across a field of grass. All detail was gone as long as the camera moved and it was back when the camera stopped. But the killer was when shooting handheld on a second day of tests. The person was walking and as log as he moved with the camera everyting wa fine but as soon as the camera would move out of sync with the person he went blurry.Again it did not look like motion blur. When looking at it in single frames we noticed that only every 8th frame was totally sharp everything else was blurred. We compared all this to identical shots with a Sony HVR Z7 on HDV and the problem was negligible. You could see some motion blurs but nothing that would feel unnatural. The images on the Z7 remained sharp throughout much of the shots even though both cameras use LongGop encoding. When contemplating about this problems my conclusion is that the EX1 due to its higher resolution also has a stronger compression. When the camera starts moving the compression suddenly kicks in and makes it highly visible. Even minor, very slow movements cause this problem. We watched the footage on a 25foot screen which made it highly visible but even on a 42" Plasma a home it was very noticeable. I am deeply disappointed about this as this LongGop Issue makes the EX1 unusable for big screen projects. The HDV performed much better even though it didn't have the latitude. But compared on a splitscreen with the EX1 it seems to be the better choice.

Has anybody seen this problem or any thoughts about it? I would have preferred the EX1 because it also offer 60p slowmo and is very good in low light. But I can't live with these blurr issues unless some solution is found.

Best wishes

Richard Ladkani


http://www.richardladkani.com
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by shur harewood
Hi Dylan thanks for the The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look article, it was a good read. You can only benefit from the variable speed feature really in 720p as it has the most flexibility.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by shur harewood
I'm an Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera owner and workshop trainer. With the release of the Sony PMW-EX3 and interchangable lens and the express card based adapter I can now shoot continous for longer hours.

This edition should have been the EX1 to begin with as it retains the features found on the shoulder mounts, interchangable lens and the Cinealta badge, varispeed but with true 1920 x1080 acquisition not the 1440 x 1080 as before.

My gripe had been the cards as only and I thought 16GB should have been standard issue due to recording times. The 8GB was reminiscent of the what I called the P2 p*ss off, that meant you had to keep swapping out and transfer due to low recording time. I used a firestore but will have to wait for 720p support as it will only support interlace at 1080i.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Nils Granholm
How does it stand up vs the HVR-V1U?
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Dylan Reeve
I haven't tested the 1080 progressive output, but I believe it is PsF (very few decks/cameras currently support 1080P proper over SDI). So there should be no temporal difference between the fields, capturing the Interlaced footage as Progressive (or I believe changing the field dominance to None in FCP) should yield a progressive frame with a full unique 1080 lines.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Jeffrey Burns
I bought the EX1 to work with my Aja ioHD for use with the green screen work I do. I was disappointed that it does NOT send out progressive images on the HDSDI output. I found my keys looked much better when I captured them as progressive scans. I know I can de-interlace the images, but it adds another time consuming step to the process. I still love them camera,
just thought others might be tricked by the "hype" since it has a 1080/30P setting in the menu for output.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Tim Wilson
Thanks for adding all the info guys!

Note that I take full responsibility for any out-of-date information: Dylan gave me the article forever ago, and I took a looooong time posting it. It was 100% accurate when he sent it.

I love how quickly things are coming together though. Very nice indeed.

Thanks again for the updates, and keep 'em coming!

Tim
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by David Dobson
Premiere Pro CS3 now handles XDCAM natively. Got the automatic download a week or two ago.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Mike Jennings
Adobe added XDCAM EX support to Premiere Pro a couple of weeks ago.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Matt Kerstein
We have 2 EX-1's here at Paradise Television Network on Maui. I wanted HVX200's to match with our HDX900 but we have always been a Sony house (Betacam the last 20 years) so the Boss wanted to go with the Ex-1's..Must say very impressed with the images we are getting..Can't wait for my Gates underwater housing.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by Robert Nolty
Ditto for premiere -- using the Sony software to wrap the EX data in MXF format I could edit in Premiere without 3rd party software. However, on my computer (WinXP, 2.8 GHz) and video hardware (10-year-old Matrox) it was too sluggish to use.

In Vegas on the same computer, again using MXF format, performance was better and I had no complaints with the event video I edited. However, Vegas was also a bit sluggish and I wouldn't want to use it for editing dramatic material.

5 cows for the camera, 2.5 cows for software support so far.
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look
by callum-nz
Avid can edit the footage without transcoding you just need to use the the sony clip software to wrap in a MXF file. Media Composer 2.8.3 handles all the XDCAM EX file formats. I have a project that has all three types in the one timeline.


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