Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lens wrap-up - why modify when you can cropify?

Clear plastic tub-o-lenses

Lens Rankings:

  1. I love my CCTV lenses - the little black plastic ones you see grouped together in the pic at the top. They always have TV in the name. Made by companies like Fujinon, Elbex, Pentax, Cosmicar and many more in the 90's on up. I consider these probably the best kind of lens to use for what I'm doing - at least of the lenses I've tried. These lenses have given me no trouble at all (aside from the fact that the really wide ones require cropping in post).
  2. Next comes my Nikon SLR lens. I like that one just as much I think.  Beyond that my lenses begin to become a bit problematic.
  3. The 2 (silver plastic on the far right) Carl Zeiss Contax G lenses are nearly as trouble-free as the black ones - and they're excellent quality glass - but focusing is a bit difficult (the only problem with them, and only a small one if you have the good adapters - more info below). 
  4. Then the old hefty machined metal lenses (on the far left) made for 16mm movie cameras are too heavy and have poor optical coatings - causing lens flare and color fringing problems, and since they're old many of them can have problems like tight focusing or oil on the iris blades etc. 

Looking back I can't believe how much time and effort (and money) I've put into acquiring lenses for my G1. Several long posts dedicated to nothing else - lots of money spent on modifications (that really were unnecessary - keep reading). In the beginning I knew basically nothing - every step of the way was a learning experience, and now I've got a good deal of knowledge racked up and it seems like a great time to stop and get down my thoughts and findings before my sieve-like memory betrays me. It might be helpful to someone else wanting to use a Micro Four Thirds camera for stopmotion. So without further ado, my thoughts and findings:

I find I'm not using the metal-barrelled cine camera lenses - the ones made for 16mm movie cameras. I love the look of them - the solid heft of machined and polished steel - the engraved markings. Exotic and beautiful - relics from a time when things were made differently. But they're heavy on the camera, making it more difficult to hang it under the Manfrotto arm and swing it around over the set, plus they don't have the more advanced optical coatings that later lenses do, which reduce or eliminate lens flare and chromatic aberration. They do give a more 70's type look (well, 70's and all decades previous) that I thought I would like, since I love 70's movies with all their flaws. But I find I'm using mostly the TV lenses (which are made for closed-circuit TV and security camera use) like the Fujinon-TV 12.5mm and 25mm and the Elbex-TV 8mm. Another lens I use is the Micro-Nikkor-P 55mm. Followed by the Carl Zeiss Contax G series lenses - 35mm and 45mm - which are excellent, but a bit difficult to focus, even though I now have better adapters that make it much easier and more precise than the older adapters. The adapters I bought originally* (see note below in green) used a tiny knurled thumbwheel for focus. It's location - jammed right up against the body of the camera and too close to the base - meant that I had to try to wedge my thumb in between the bottom of the lens and the tripod platform, or else try to use my thumbnail to turn the wheel, and when I did get the wheel to turn it didn't always engage with the lens' focusing mechanism - a very hit and miss procedure and extremely frustrating (I definitely wouldn't use these adapters for focus pulls).

But the ones I bought from Hong Kong on eBay have a large focus ring all the way around the circumference of the lens base - no slippage and no frustration. Well, slightly frustrating at times just because it's a thin ring and it's still jammed up right against the body of the camera, but that's much better than the older adapters - trust me! Though to be honest if I was going to pull focus on a shot I'd lean toward one of my other lenses that have a focus ring right on the lens barrel itself rather than on the adapter.

* Important note - the Amazon page actually shows the picture of the newer and better adapter and the price is ridiculous at $60.00 - but when you order, what you actually receive is the older adapter with the little frustrating knurled thumbwheel for focus. DO NOT order this item from Amazon - instead order from Holga Camera - it's much less expensive and you'll get the newer/better adapter that uses a full focusing ring. 

Contax G lens to Micro Four Thirds adapters - the good and the bad

Here are 2 YouTube videos I hunted up just to demonstrate how both the older style adapters with the thumbwheels and the newer ones with full focusing rings work. First up - old thumbwheel style (BAAAD Adapter!):

And the newer style (Gooood Adapter!):

Crop Circles

I mentioned above that the modifications I got (to the Fujinon-TV 12.5mm f 1.4) were unnecessary - let me explain why. It's simple - because vignetting and soft focus - the problems the modifications are designed to solve - only affect the outermost edges of the image and can easily just be cropped out, as I demonstrated in the Lightroom demo. If I can crop this drastically:

what you get directly from the camera

.. and after cropping and a little color adjustment - it's still slightly larger than HD! 

.. And still get HD sized images, then there's no need for full lens coverage. I mean it is a nice thing to have - it makes framing your shots simple - what you see is exactly what you get. But cropping isn't difficult at all. This is an issue that only affects the wide lenses - the wider you go the less coverage you get on the m43 sensor. So for those wide lenses, feel free to buy an unmodified Fujinon-TV 12.5mm and 25mm - and just crop away the edges. Same for the Elbex-TV 8.5mm or similar ultrawide lenses, even if they're made for a 1/2" format camera (as opposed to the 1" format, which is approximately the same size as the m43 sensor).

There's also no need to get a zoom lens, as I briefly mentioned in my last lens post. Just as cropping makes expensive lens modifications unnecessary, digital zooming makes a zoom lens unnecessary. It looks exactly the same whether it's done by twisting the barrel of a zoom lens or in software during post processing.

Keep in mind, I'm using my camera strictly for stopmotion animation, so I have certain advantages over anyone using theirs to capture live action video. Namely, I shoot still pictures that are much larger than any video image (they're more than twice the size of 1080p) so I can crop pretty far and still pull HD images with absolutely no loss of quality. I imagine for zooming in live action video you'd want to use an actual zoom lens that gives full coverage because you wouldn't be able to crop much in post without degrading image quality, since you're starting with images only captured at HD resolution. In fact if you're shooting live video you'd also want your wide angle lenses to have full coverage for the same reason - you won't be able to crop without losing resolution. So forgive me for saying it but - nanny nanny boo boo!! This is one area where stop motion animators have a distinct advantage over live action videographers. Hah! Take that!!

In an upcoming post I'll do for my micro 4/3s camera what I did in this one for lenses - I'll look back and sum up the key points - the strengths and weaknesses in using them for stopmotion.

Last minute Addendum:

Oops! 2 more freebies!! - and a little more home-studio lens surgery (total success this time)
2 old Pentax-TV lenses I've had sitting around for years - now back in service again! 

Here are 2 more freebie lenses - these are also ones I was using with my Hitachi analog broadcast camera about 8 years ago (like the Rainbow zoom lens I mentioned a couple of posts back). Had to search a lot harder for these, but they finally turned up, in absolutely new condition because I kept them wrapped in bubble wrap and packed in their boxes. One is a 12mm f1.2, the other a 6mm f1.2. The 6mm - the larger of the two above, required a little surgery before it would fit snugly into a c-mount adapter and focus properly - the base of it was a little too big around to fit into the socket in the adapter. This is often true for the really wide lenses - in fact my Elbex 8mm lens had been machined a bit in order to fit better. I googled for machining c-mount lens and quickly found this article where somebody shows exactly how he did it with a lens that looks very similar to mine. As soon as I saw exactly what he had done - namely just cut a 45º bevel into the outer edge of the lens base and a matching bevel into the inner edge of the adapter - I was able to do the same. Of course, he used a machining lathe, and I used a belt sander and a dremel, but the results are the same - after a good deal of grinding and checking it suddenly fit right into place and focused perfectly! It does give a smallish image circle in a black rectangle, but it's big enough that I can pull an HD image from it.

A couple of pics demonstrating how I did it:
Dremeling a bevel into the adapter

Beveling the edge of the lens base using a belt sander

This is not the actual lens or adapter I used - there's no way I'm taking them apart for pictures because they fit very snugly now (means there won't be any slop - so yay!) and I'm not gonna keep messing with it. I just wanted to show what dremel tip I used and how I held it. When I really did the deed I held the dremel in my right hand and held the adapter down tightly with my left and slowly rotated the ring itself, holding the dremel as still as I could - trying to be a machine. I also held the lens in both hands (note safety gloves from the hardware store - as you can see they've saved me from a few cuts and scrapes). I held the lens in both hands, again holding my hands as immobile as possible, like a machine, and slowly rotated the lens against the sandpaper belt.

The lens you see above is actually the Elbex 8mm, which had been modified like this by someone else, and as you can see they rounded off the base. I went for more of a straight 45º bevel, and the same on the inner edge of the adapter. Oh, and I also had front and rear lens caps on the lens the entire time of course!

Note - just discovered you can make the image circle for a given lens slightly larger by opening up your iris. Apparently the more light  you let in the bigger it gets. Need to be careful though - most lenses don't do well wide open and you need to keep an eye on depth of field - though with the really wide lenses (the ones that do the image circle thing) you naturally have great depth of field to begin with, so it should be manageable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Using Lightroom and Quicktime pro to process images for stopmotion

Here's my first-ever video tutorial, and the first time you get to hear my voice - a 17 minute demo in which I show how I use Adobe Lightroom to process a folder full of RAW images for use in a stopmotion film. Lightroom has an amazing feature - the Sync button - that allows you to work on one image and then instantly apply the exact same changes to every image in the folder - something you can't do in Photoshop or most other image processing apps.

I messed up a couple of times, but I mostly left those in to demonstrate how to fix it in case you mess up the same way - hey, sometimes you learn more by watching a teacher screw up! Plus you get to laugh at me - who could ask for anything more, right?

At the end I also demonstrate how to use Quicktime Pro 7 to turn the pictures into an Image Sequence and export it as a movie file that you can then use in your video editing software.

Also - the importance of using a white balance card!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Anadromous Life

Byrne Power, The Anadromist - a still from his video for Gravity From Above


It's a good word. I had never heard it before. If you live in Alaska you might have heard it - because it refers to a certain type of fish, or rather a certain type of fish behavior - exemplified by the salmon who swim upriver every year for their spawning run, only to die in droves, but  leave countless fry - small newborn salmon who then make it downriver to live their lives until it's their turn to fight their way up the rapids and waterfalls.


Say it - it rolls off the tongue really well. The emphasis is on the second syllable, sounds a bit like ca-DA-verous. And it basically means going against the current. I learned all this from Byrne Powers' website The Anadromous Life.

That's him in the picture at the top of the page (on the left) in a still from the video I posted 2 entries ago about his documentary Gravity From Above, about European puppetry arts. If you haven't already seen it, you should scroll down a bit and watch - it's well worth it.

Byrne lives what he calls The Anadromous Life - moving against the current trends of modern convenience living and consumerism. Resisting the temptations laid before us by digital devices - temptations that beckon us to do things the accepted way - the easy way - the way that's pre-programmed by corporate drones who decide what their devices should allow the populace to do, and what the limitations on them should be. He doesn't believe in tweeting and blogging - at least insofar as those words imply brief sound-byte style instant contact through the digital ether with countless virtual friends - most of whom you don't know at all and wouldn't actually be friends with if you knew them in real life. He believes in actual face-to-face contact and conversation, something that's becoming lost increasingly as we wall ourselves off to play video games and watch streaming movies and blog-surf for hours on end each day.

At the very tail end of my last entry I made a brief edit announcing that Byrne's Gravity From Above website is now live, but I thought I should also state it here in a post that's officially about him and his project. Click that link or click through from my blogroll on the right (Blogs I Dig) to see how his progress is going. But I also want to point my readers to Byrne's other site The Anadromous Life. It's a Wordpress site, but please don't call it a blog - he doesn't blog there - he writes essays. Essays about unplugging from the internet and living like a human being - about European puppetry arts and puppetfilm (an 8 part series), about Jan Svankmejer (I'll assume most of my readers already know who he is - if not then click through and discover the wonders). When you reach the bottom of a page, click the right arrow to see the next entry.

Something I found fascinating is a 6-part series on American Gothic. Between that one and The Feral Life I discovered a lot of movies to watch, and his thoughts on American Gothic link together seemingly disparate things from Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft through EC comics, Night of the Hunter, The Doors, Tom Waite, George Romero and Bernie Wrightson, with lots of other fascinating stops along the way.

If you're a fan of stopmotion animation in this age of CGI overload, then chances are you also have an interest in living the anadromous life, at least to some extent. So pop on over for a visit - if you're like me then you'll decide to stick around for a while and glean all you can from his fascinating site.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Latest Lens Lore

My posting has been very sporadic lately - it's because I'm in production now on Cosmo's and I don't want to give too much away. I feel like if I show pictures of what the film is going to look like then there won't be any surprises when I finally unveil this bad boy - and we all like surprises, don't we? Well, good ones anyway, and I assure you you're all in for some good surprises when I release this thing. 

So I've been posting about other stuff.


But it's time to bring the bloggosphere up to date on what's been going on in the Darkstudio behind the scenes, the stuff that's shaping the look and feel of this film.

Above is a pic of the Fujinon-TV 12.5mm f1.4 lens 

 Not mine, I grabbed it off the web, but that's exactly what mine looked like before I packed it up and shipped it off to England for modifications. It's hard to find wide angle lenses that give full coverage on the Micro Four Thirds sensor - but as I mentioned a couple of posts ago I found Edward Koehler, who does these mods brilliantly - through his site at ekoe Camera

Looking back, I went about this the wrong way - rather than buying a lens and having to ship it across the atlantic for mods, then back across the pond to me, I should have bought one from his stock and it only would have had to pond-jump once (it cost me $100 just to ship it to him!!). But he was exceedingly cool about it all - even though the lens had been partially modified by someone else (they didn't quite get full coverage out of it) and they had superglued the  lens to the mount - a very dangerous gambit that can easily result in the lens suddenly just falling off and destroying itsef at your feet - he machined a retaining ring from aluminum to restore it to full working strength and eliminate that danger - plus he added a huge 72mm filter ring because he knew I like to keep clear UV filters on my lenses to keep my greasy fingerprints off of them, which gives it a totally different look (see it in the pic below):

Not only does it resemble a Pirate Blunderbuss now with that massive flared snout, but it gets complete coverage - no darkening at the corners, no softness of focus near the edges (as long as I'm not shooting wide open with it). 

Ok, next up is my cool little ultrawide lens - the Elbex-TV 8mm f1.3. Just like the (pre-modified) Fujinon-TV 12.5 I posted above, this lens doesn't give full coverage on a Micro 4/3s sensor (it's even worse):

All you get is a black rectangle with an image circle in the middle. But believe it or not - this isn't really a problem (well, it can make it difficult to frame your shots precisely - but that can be fixed as I'll explain in a moment).

Here's the exact same shot after a minute or two messing with it in Lightroom:

.. And wouldja believe - from that little image circle in the Elbex-TV 8mm I can still pull HD sized images after cropping!! Amazing!! Not only that, but working with the camera's RAW image files, Lightroom is able to do unbelievable things - you can do incredibly subtle adjustments to white balance, highlights, whites, shadows, darks, color saturation and vibrancy etc... essentially you can make em look real good. You can even distort or un-distort to whatever degree you want - shoot with a normal or long lens and make it look like a wide angle or even extreme wide angle with barrel distortion, or shoot with a fisheye and de-fish. I'll be doing a post soon about Lightroom - and let me tell you, now that I have it, I can't understand how I ever got along without it - my shots that I thought looked pretty good before now look like crap compared to what I'm capable of.

I've also been thinking about a zoom lens, for those nifty 70's shots:

In fact with the assortment of lenses I currently have, it's the only thing left that I want (used-to want - read on dear readers.. ). I did a little web research and the options for a decent zoom lens that works on m4/3 are pretty limited - the one that kept coming up is the Rainbow H6x8-II 8-48mm Zoom Lens. I was preparing to try to find one on fleabay and then send it somewhere for the necessary mods, when it suddenly struck me - I HAVE one of these!!! I got it back when I was using my Hitachi analog broadcast camera. In fact after I first got my Lumix G1 I remember trying it with a c-mount adapter and being disappointed because it does the image cirlce in a black rectangle thing (I wasn't aware of just how much you could crop out in those days). 

I found this little video showing how some guy modified his to work: Rainbow H6x8-II Lens Modification for GH2 / Micro Four Thirds Cameras on Vimeo.

Well, I also happen to have the exact same kind of c-mount adapter laying around that he used (oh yeah,  this mod was a total freebie!), so I did a little drilling and dremeling this morning and it worked like a charm: 
At least the physical modification did. I don't understand how to adjust the back focus in order to make it what's called parfocal - so as you zoom you don't lose focus. That has to be precisely adjusted for the exact lens and camera, and apparently it's best done in a camera shop by trained professionals. I was beginning to consider finding a shop to get this done but I went ahead and did a few animated zoom tests (even though it has a very short range where it stays in focus) and realized there's no need to actually have a zoom lens - since there's no perspective shift during a zoom, it looks exactly like a digital zoom that can be done in software. Or I could just move the camera itself toward or away from something, adjusting focus frame by frame as I go, and get a tracking shot that could resemble a 70's style zoom (but look even cooler thanks to the perspective shift). 

Okey dokey then - that brings us up to date on the lens front. Soon I'll do a Lightroom demo, but up next - more news on that European Puppetry documentary.

** Edit **

I just discovered Byrne Power has already created his Gravity From Above blog, where he'll be sharing his progress in making the European Puppetry documentary I blogged about last time. I've added it to my blogroll for easy updates. I want to do a followup on Byrne himself and his other site The Anadromous Life - next time I promise!