Filmmaking Gear

The following articles detail filmmaking gear. This includes camera reviews, audio gear and lighting so you can take action and make your movie now!

The Minimalist Guide to Gaffer Tape

Sometimes the glue that holds it all together isn’t glue at all. But tape. And not any kind of tape, mind you. This particular variety goes by many names: gaff, gaffe, gaffs, gaffer, and gaffer tape. But when it comes down to it, as Marty Gage says, “No matter what you call it, it’s just great tape!”

With 15 years of experience in the industry, Marty Gage knows a thing or two about the importance of high quality gaffer tape. He teamed up with a leading tape manufacturer and in 2013 launched Gaffer Power, a company determined to create the market’s best gaffer tape.

Gaffer Tape

The Minimalist Guide to Gaffer Tape

Filmmaking Stuff: So, what is gaffer tape, exactly?

Marty Gage: Gaffer tape is a heavy-duty, pressure-sensitive cotton cloth tape with adhesive properties. In other words, it’s tough and it sticks! It is used mainly in theater, film, and television productions as well as during live performances and any other kind of stage work. If you’re on a set of some sorts, you won’t have any difficulty finding gaffer tape!

Filmmaking Stuff: What are some specific ways gaffer tape is used on set?

Marty Gage: Although gaffer tape can be used for many things, its primary purpose is for securing cables to a stage floor or other surface. Since it’s easy to remove and doesn’t leave any sticky residue, it’s without a doubt the most popular roll of tape on set.

Filmmaking Stuff: Why not just call it tape? Why gaffer tape?

Marty Gage: It got its name because the chief lighting technician on a film crew, also known as a gaffer, uses tons of this type of tape. When cables are taped down on a stage or other surface they are said to be “gaffed”.

Filmmaking Stuff: Why is gaffer tape ideal for film and television?

Marty Gage: The main reasons are that it doesn’t leave any sticky residue, it’s easy to remove, and very easy to tear. So you can use it for markings and of course securing cables. It’s also very strong and waterproof.

Filmmaking Stuff: Sounds like a pretty integral element.

Marty Gage: From day one of shooting and right up until the very last Martini Shot, if the crew is on set, the gaffer rolls are being used.

Filmmaking Stuff: Would you use different tape for an exterior shoot versus interior?

Marty Gage: Real gaffer tape is waterproof so it can be utilized for both indoor and outdoor shoots. I say “real” because there are import gaffer tapes out there that are crap. No one on a film set would be caught dead with the import stuff. Premium gaffer tape, like Gaffer Power, is manufactured in America.

Filmmaking Stuff: You said it’s used for theater too. The heat given off by theater lights doesn’t compromise the integrity of the tape?

Marty Gage: Gaffer tape is the best tape for a theatre production as it is strong and hides in the background, and unlike duct tape for example. And again, when used for an extended period of time it won’t leave behind a sticky residue. So it’s the perfect tape for theatre.

Filmmaking Stuff: Gaffer Power manufactures a few different styles. How are different sizes and colors beneficial?

Marty Gage: There are many variations of gaffer tape. The two inch black tape is by far the most popular as it is used for securing cables. It is great because it doesn’t reflect light and blends nicely in the background. A one inch black gaffer tape can be used to help actors find their marks. White gaffer tape is also useful for markings and also to write notes on it. Lot’s of equipment boxes are labeled with white gaffer tape.

Filmmaking Stuff: You’ve mentioned a few times how great this product is because it doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Sounds like gaffer tape may be more handy to have around the house than duct tape.

Marty Gage: With duct tape, the moment you apply it to something, forget about it! It ain’t going nowhere! This obviously is a good solution for things requiring permanent fixes. But trust me, you do NOT want to use duct tape on your computer or lamp cords! Since it’s been around now for quite some time, gaffer tape is starting to make it’s way into regular homes.

Filmmaking Stuff: What are some other ways you’ve seen gaffer tape used?

Marty Gage: Many people use gaffer tape for hanging pictures, adding weather proofing plastic to windows, repairs around the house, car patch-ups, hockey sticks, wallet patches. We actually have a 101 uses of gaffer tape on our site!

Filmmaking Stuff: Over one hundred? What’s the strangest way you’ve seen it used?

Marty Gage: The weirdest thing I’ve personally seen, is someone using gaffer tape on their toothbrush to create a better grip!

Filmmaking Stuff: I think I need to keep a roll of this around the house. Where can I buy gaffer tape?

Marty Gage: It’s actually hard to find if you don’t live in a city with lots of filming. That’s why so many people buy it online. If it is available in your city, gaffer tape can be found in select hardware stores, audiovisual and camera shops.

What this boils down to is, if you’re involved in video, film, or theater productions, you’d better account for lots of gaffer tape in your budget. And heck, order a few rolls for yourself too. It’s about time to hang-up those portraits that have been leaning against the wall of your living room.

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After 15 years of working in film and television in a variety of capacities, Marty Gage teamed up with a leading tape manufacturer in the US to produce a new brand of premium grade gaffer tape. Gaffer Power® was launched in December 2013 and is now the top selling brand of gaffer tape on Amazon. Gaffer Power® comes in several sizes and color and continues to expand in stores across America.

Thoughts On The Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder

This is a great time to be a low-budget filmmaker because of the advancement of higher-end features on lower-budget cameras. Although NAB is the big cornucopia of goodness for filmmakers, this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) has many treats for filmmakers.

Take, for example, the Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder with Twin Video Camera.

Ultra HD (3840×2160 pixels) is fast becoming the next step in home entertainment, and Panasonic has thrown their hat into the home 4k(ish) ring in a big way. I say “4kish” because there is a technical difference between true 4k resolution (4096×2160 pixels) and UHD (3840×2160 pixels) – UHD is more the standard for home entertainment listed as “4k Televisions”, for example.

Panasonic-HC-WX970Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder

Panasonic has seemingly pulled out all the stops for this camcorder by adding some amazing features formerly only found on high end (and I’m talking $20,000+ RED) cameras. Besides the UHD resolution at 30 frames per second, it will shoot 1080P at 120 frames per second and can use interpolation to reach 240(!) frames per second.

That is CRAZY good on this camcorder, even if you only ever use the 120 because of the interpolation (interpolation is the camera “filling in” missing frames to achieve a higher apparent frame rate – we’ll have to wait and see how good it does).

It also has a “high dynamic range” mode.

If you’ve read some of my previous articles, I’ve pointed out that one of the main shortcomings of HDSLRs is the limited dynamic range – the difference that camera can see between light and dark areas. Former Panasonic handicams (which I’ve used before) top out at about 8 stops of dynamic range – useable if you know how to work within the limitations, but by no means outstanding.

Greater dynamic range was achieved in early RED cameras by shooting dual exposures – basically rapidly switching between a darker exposed image and a lighter exposed image and combining them into one image that “sees” further into shadows and retains more highlights.

Panasonic has added a similar capability to this little guy, and the results are impressive.

One of the reasons I chose to go with the A7s is the higher dynamic range (and I don’t regret it for a second) – but the sample video from Panasonic shows the dramatic impact of higher dynamic range on the final image quality:

While it is not perfect, but it is many times better (and more filmic looking, in my opinion) then any consumer camcorder that I have seen before.

There are a some other notable features, as well. It includes an 20x optical zoom with a 50x digital zoom (and digital zoom in UHD might be workable…maybe) as well as 5-axis image stabilization.

It is wifi enabled for remote control and liveview, and it includes a second camera capability. You can use either your smartphone (via wifi, I’m sure) or an attached second camera on the flip out screen that can be rotated to allow for what appears to be a picture-in-picture effect while shooting.

It’s an interesting feature, but the sample video makes it look very Skype-ish in my opinion:

I know I probably won’t be using it, but someone might find an artistic use at some point.

The Good On The Panasonic HC-WX970:

– UHD resolution up to 30fps, 1080P up to 240fps (with interpolation)
– impressive High Dynamic Range feature
– Wi-fi remote operation and live view
– $1,000 – available around March 2015

The Not-So Good On The Panasonic HC-WX970:

– Still a small sensor (difficult to get high depth of field)
– no 24p recording at UHD (I hope that changes with an update)

The What On The Panasonic HC-WX970:
– Second camera capability (looks Skype-ish to me)

The Panasonic HC-WX970 is a great looking camera for the price. While the small sensor and second camera function seems just ok at this point, the lack of 24p shooting makes me scratch my head.

Having that option would bring a lot of low-budget filmmakers to this camera, but maybe Panasonic is trying to not cannibalize it’s higher end camera market.

The high dynamic range and extremely high frame rates are remarkable for a consumer aimed camera, and those might bring many low-budget filmmakers back for a second look especially if Panasonic adds 24p shooting – Are you listening, Panasonic?

Thoughts On PluralEyes

Almost everyone has seen the image of a film set when the cameras start rolling and someone steps into the shot with a slate, calls out the scene, and then slams the sticks to get things going. “Action!”

It’s an indelible image of filmmaking, but does it still have a place in the world of digital filmmaking?

The short answer is, YES!

This is especially true if you are working any kind of dual audio system, where you are recording audio using a dedicated audio recorder not connected to your primary camera.

The clapper/loader (the traditional name for the set position that runs the clap-board and also would load film into the camera) announces the scene and take number so that the editor can match up the audio file with the correct camera shots.

But this can be extremely tedious work – I know, I’ve done it by hand. Enter PluralEyes…

PluralEyes

Thoughts On PluralEyes

PluralEyes is a program by the extremely talented folks over at Red Giant that is designed to make the process of synching multiple videos and audio sources easy. The software operates simply – you import your audio and video files, and then hit the synch button.

PluralEyes then goes to work examining the audio waveforms on both your video and audio files, then rearranges the clips so that the waveforms match up correctly. Once the synch is complete it exports an XML file for your editing program of choice which easily imports and becomes a synched timeline.

PluralEyes is designed to make your editor’s life easier, which is something any editor will appreciate.

There are a couple of options and features that must be highlighted.

If you have problems getting PluralEyes to synch your clips, there is an option called, “Try Really Hard” (yes, that’s what it’s called) that takes awhile to compute, but will use more detailed algorithm to ensure you get more complete audio matching.

Another outstanding feature is called, “Correct Audio Drift.” In previous articles, I have mentioned how some cameras experience audio drift – Which is to say, when a camera records images at 23.97 frames per second and then the audio records at actual 24 frames per second. When this happens, your audio and video will begin to fall out of synch.

PluralEyes adjusts the audio source to ensure a correct match with the video.

The Good on PluralEyes:
– Helps make synching audio and video (or multiple cameras) in post easier.
– Options to increase the speed or be more accurate in matching clips.
– Options for correcting audio drift.
– Comes individually or with the Shooter Suite.
– Exports XML in a variety of formats.

The Not So Good on PluralEyes:
– Relies on audio waveforms, so if your audio is recorded to low or accidentally missed, then you’re in trouble (although this is more of an on-set workflow issue then an software issue.)

Final Thoughts on PluralEyes:

My experience with PluralEyes has been slightly mixed. While I think the software is great, there have been times when video and audio clips don’t always get lined up properly or even at all. The good news is, these hiccups tend to be the exception rather then the rule. And any of these oversights are pretty easily adjusted by editors after the fact.

The Best HD Video Camera For Filmmakers On A Budget

If you’re looking for the best HD video camera, you’re not alone. Over the past year, my inbox has been inundated by ambitious filmmakers seeking advice on gear. And if you’re like most filmmakers, you can’t wait to get your hands on the best HD video camera and lens package you can.

To help us out, I reached out to filmmaker and self proclaimed gear nerd, Michael Head.

Michael, what is the best HD video camera and lens package for filmmakers on a budget?

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That is actually a great question, and I’ll start by saying this:

Having the best HD video camera in the world will not make your film look better if you don’t know how to use it. You’ll want to know how to properly light for the camera and how to record awesome sound. I’ve seen videos shot on RED Epics that look awful and videos shot on handicams that look spectacular.

Think about it this way. Nobody asked Leonardo Da Vinci what kind of brushes he used. It was his skill that made the difference.

I don’t know what your budget is, but I’ll make any recommendations I can based on my knowledge and experience. Let me directly answer your question on selecting an HD video camera and lenses.

HD Video Camera

Photo © ra2 studio / Dollar Photo Club

The Best HD Video Camera For Filmmaking

1. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera: The Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera is great little HD video camera, around $1,000, micro-four-thirds lens mount with a small sensor. But the camera is very workflow and add-on heavy. You’ll either need a lot of batteries or an external power source.

The Blackmagic can shoot both ProRes (compressed) and raw (uncompressed), but both require more storage (a LOT more) then the AVCHD that comes out of the 7D. And while this HD video camera uses SD cards, you are going to need very fast cards (write speeds of 90+ mbps, which are the more expensive cards).

The raw files are amazing to work with but require good knowledge of color correction to make it look right (but at least Da Vinci Resolve, an outstanding color correction software, has a free version). It has around 13 stops of dynamic range and can look very filmic if properly exposed and color corrected.

2. Panasonic GH4: For around around $1,400 this HD video camera comes with a micro-four-thirds lens mount, small sensor, and great images recorded 4k internally. This makes the Panasonic GH4 a great choice if you want to capture 4K in-camera. But similar to the Blackmagic, higher resolution requires more storage.

The Panasonic GH4 also has an add-on unit that allows for XLR audio to feed directly into the camera, but I’ve heard several reports of the audio “drifting” (becoming out of sync) when utilized. Capturing external audio is still a best practice that applies to any HD video camera you choose.

3. Sony A7s: With this HD video camera, $2,500 gets you the body, an e-mount lens mount (highly adaptable) and a full-frame sensor, which allows for very shallow depth of field with the right lens. The Sony A7s gives you around 12 stops of useable dynamic range, which makes it extremely sensitive in low light. As a consequence, it is very easy to overexpose. So you’ll probably need filters if you plan on shooting outside during the day, especially if you want any depth of field.

The Sony A7s is capable of 4k output to an external recorder which, of course, costs more money. And as a possible downside, the battery life is short. So you’ll need extra batteries (there’s a reason it comes with two). Despite these costs, this is actually the camera I choose to adopt, and it has been outstanding for me so far.

Again, it’s not necessarily the HD video camera that makes the most difference. Good cameras can help, if you know how to use them properly. But in reverse order: Make sure your lighting is good, make sure your audio recording is outstanding, and make sure your story is interesting. Without a good story, the camera won’t help much. And without good audio, your audience won’t care what kind of images you’re putting out.

Thoughts On The iMac 5k

Apple announced a new iMac 5K, the latest iMac. This new machine boasts a whopping 5k (5120 x 2880) retina display! That is an impressive number of pixels, to say the least. But aside from the new screen, is upgrading to this machine really worth it?

iMac 5k

Thoughts On The iMac 5k

Over the last several years, I have edited on both iMacs and on Windows machines. When configured similarly, there is not a lot of difference between how fast the two machines operate (now I duck to avoid low-flying objects).

While the iMac 5K has a great display going for it, many users are still generating 1080p content for web delivery. So you have to wonder if the 5K monitor is going to add value to your final product.

The Good of the iMac 5k:

– 5K Retina Display
– Apple Ecosystem (Apple software is pretty good)
– Supports a second display up to 3840 x 2160 resolution (in case 5k isn’t enough)
– i5 processor, AMD 2Gig graphics, 8 Gigs RAM on base model (not terrible)
– Upgradeable to 4.0 GHz i7 processor, 4 Gig video card, and 32(!) Gigs RAM

The Not So Good of the iMac 5k:

– Base model has only okay specs for heavy video editing
– It’s expensive, especially if you opt for the upgraded processor, graphics, and RAM
– It’s not user upgradeable

Final Thoughts on the iMac 5k:

It seems odd that you can get a new 27 inch non-Retina iMac configured with nearly the same specs (similar i7 processor, 32 Gigs RAM, 4 GB video card) for almost $700 less then the same specs on the iMac 5k. Since this is more than enough computing power, you have to ask yourself if a 5K display is worth it for you.

At the end of the day, buying the newest iMac won’t instantly make you a better editor. And I’m not even sure if the human eye can detect this type of resolution. But if you’d like to upgrade to the iMac 5K anyway (because it’s super cool), please feel free to utilize our iMac 5k Amazon affiliate link.