Among the many new hardware and software tools available for professional videographers to improve and enhance their work, perhaps the most crucial is the clever ability and creative ways manufacturers can find new uses for the tools at hand. In this month’s grab bag of product announcements, repurposing plays an important role.
A Bridge Too Far?
The first case in point is the Shoe Bridge, which is designed to extend the capability of typical camcorders and consumer DV cameras to accept more attached outboard devices. We’ve all run into the problem it is designed to solve: one hot shoe, several gadgets that need a hot-shoe mount. With the many microphone choices, camera-mounted onboard lights, even portable LCD monitors options we have for on-location video work, one shoe just doesn’t cut it anymore.
So K-Tek (well-known for its mic boom poles, support products, and more) has released an extender device. The Shoe Bridge provides a 6.5" (16.5cm) extension mount or bridge that sits 4" (10cm) over the camera, allowing you to mount multiple accessories. Even more space is gained with the Shoe Step Adapter, which repositions the camera shoe 2" (50mm) above the camera. An Offset Shoe Extender further repositions the camera shoe 2.6" (66mm) vertically and 2.25" (57mm) fore or aft of the camera.
This is all very well and good; additional devices can now be mounted as needed. But one videographer I know took the bridge to another level: “It’s not a bridge to nowhere,” he joked. “It’s a way to add creative lighting, depth, and shadow to my shots.”
By attaching just one device (in this case, a Litepanels LP-Micro LED lamp) at the furthest end of the Bridge, he’s moved his lamp off the camera lens access and helped to eliminate the “deer in the headlight” look that often results when a light is positioned right above the lens and a subject is caught looking right into it.
Maybe K-Tek didn’t plan on the “off-axis” function for its new product, but the birth of a new creative idea often depends on necessity as one of the parents. The multipurpose device, which is made of black anodized metal, is priced at about $120.
Creative Control Devices
Some devices are designed to be used in new and possibly unforeseen ways, of course, and are as flexible as possible in allowing for user implementation in creative new ways. Having developed and marketed several device control products and solutions over the years, FutureVideo Products has recently unveiled one of its most versatile products, the MC-20PRO II jog and shuttle controller. It combines both digital RS-422A device control and tactile media control in a single unit.
Key to the device’s flexibility is the included software (it runs under Windows 2000/XP on a PC or on a Mac with a compatible virtual machine environment); called KeyAssigner, it lets users map each of 23 assignable keys and Jog/Shuttle dials to perform single or repeated, simple or complex functions. Up to 180 commands or functions can be assigned to the unit’s 16 key sets, which are accessible in four distinct operating modes.
KeyAssigner also lets you configure the jog and shuttle dynamics so that devices respond to your touch in a reliable and productive way. And while there are preprinted label templates available that match up to several NLEs, for those who want to create their own key set labels, FutureVideo provides blank labels and Word document template files with customizable fonts and colors.
The MC-20PRO II is priced at $699; the company has a wide selection of other control devices designed to provide, as the 20 does, RS-422A serial remote control of DVRs/VTRs/ATRs, as well as tactile control of an NLE or a digital asset management system in one compact unit.
Disposable Video for Professional Uses
A few years back, I got myself into some trouble by suggesting that low-quality—I call it disposable—video could play an important role in a professional video production. Yes, the image quality and audio fidelity of our production deserves—and usually gets—the utmost care and attention. But on rare occasions, there can be reason and opportunity to creatively incorporate video that is of less-than-usual quality, especially if it communicates an important message that cannot be conveyed in any other way. That’s my excuse, at any rate, for even talking about using less-than-pro-quality video. That, and YouTube!
At one of the last weddings we videotaped, it was evident that the bride wanted as many greetings and best wishes from her guests as possible incorporated into her wedding video. A nice idea for sure, but one that pushed the bounds of our ability to shoot and edit it all in the time and budget allowed.
Our solution was to turn many of the guests into videographers themselves! Using the smallest, lightest, easiest, and cheapest video cameras we could get, we gave those who wanted to participate a crash course in camera operation, and we handed out some branded camcorders we found priced at about $200. The results were shaky and less than optimally lit; nevertheless, they were very engaging and emotionally meaningful for the bride.
So word of a new “wearable” camcorder for the consumer marketplace came with some interest for the creatively inclined. For less than $100, you’re not going to get everything you might expect on a camcorder. There’s no viewfinder—in fact, the whole camera is smaller than most viewfinders, less than 3.5" in overall length. It can be clipped onto a belt or sturdy shirt pocket; it comes with a tie-cliplike mounting device, as well as a lavaliere clip or neck strap and a small desktop plastic mount.
Called the uCorder, this device captures video (as standard 640x480 VGA type images in AVI file format) using a tiny pinhole lens and microimaging chip. The resulting footage is rated at “up to 25 fps,” so it’s very
cell-phonelike in its quality and overall resolution. There is a tiny ambient microphone, and the unit will do audio-only recording, as well. With its internal 2GB flash memory (there’s a micro SD slot for expansion), overall record time is somewhat limited. A USB port provides computer upload capability and recharging power for the device.
All this being taken into account, you’ll want to add a little creativity when using or editing any footage you get from such devices: For example, we took a handful of guests’ comments, recropped the somewhat awkward framing, and then created a three- or four-way split screen in Final Cut Pro with a clip or two in each of the on-screen boxes. This not only helped distract from the poor video quality, it added a sense of “you are there” newsy-ness to the entire sequence. And all the teeny camcorders were returned at the end of the evening!
The uCorder, of course, is a consumer implementation of much of the same technology used in spy or surveillance video; you can get a sense of what’s out there at several online sites, including a couple listed below.
Much more professional in its construction and its capability is the new Zoom Q3 camcorder, from Samson Technology, the folks who released the popular Zoom H4n digital audio recorder. The Q3 does have an LCD screen, and it too captures video in a 640x480 MPEG-4 at a fully rated 30fps. It uses the SDHC card as its recording medium; up to 16 hours can be captured onto a 32GB card.
Audio is more robust too, with true X/Y stereo condenser mics capturing a 44.1 or 48kHz audio signal. Two AA batteries are needed. And with the unit’s somewhat large footprint, space for extra I/O is available, with USB 2.0 and hybrid TV cable connections. Not surprisingly, the unit has a YouTube auto upload capacity. The Q3 lists for $249.
That Is a Projector in Your Pocket!
Again, it seems that necessity is a real mother. Many pro event and wedding videographers have provided presentation or projection services as part of their overall video production package. They know that being able to project same-day footage of a wedding at the evening reception or high school game highlights at a later-in-the-day awards ceremony creates a big buzz and a lucrative add-on service.
Highly capable projectors have been getting smaller and lighter over the years, making such activities more possible and more convenient. Now, this trend has gone to some extremes. Handheld video and data projectors are all the rage, as seen with recent releases from companies such as Optoma Pico, 3M, BenQ Joybee, and, now, even Nikon.
The Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj projects images up to 40" in size with a resolution of 640x480, at a maximum distance of about 6'. The camera itself is more than competent: It combines 12.1 effective megapixels and a 5x wide-angle Zoom-NIKKOR lens, a five-way VR Image Stabilization system, and a high-resolution 2.7'' LCD.
But it’s the portable palm-sized projection capabilities that are opening new ideas for video acquisition and presentation. It may not be best for an audience of a hundred or more, but being able to show some scenes from video taken earlier in the day (or from another day altogether, such as prerecorded greetings) can help create a unique moment for the bride and groom—one that can then be easily videotaped and itself incorporated into the overall wedding video.
Projecting video imagery onto a target surface, be it flat or not, from 5" to 40" away also opens up some unique lighting and design opportunities. Think about projecting images on, behind, or around the bride, while simultaneously videotaping her—that can drive some very engaging emotional sequences.
The S1000 comes with a remote control for wireless operation of both the projector and usual camera functions; a simple projection stand is also supplied. The still camera takes video as well, and it does have I/O connectivity for even more creative uses.
Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.