I love using custom camera cages when making movies with small, mirrorless Super 16/Micro Four Thirds or Super 35mm/APS-C hybrid cameras. One such cage saved my only camera at the time and thus saved my career, not so long ago.
The recent arrival of a custom cage for my Panasonic Lumix GX8 camera means I feel a whole lot safer toting it around in public while shooting video.
And, it got me thinking about the current state of the art of cages and rigging for any camera, whether my GX8, my GH4 or Fujifilm’s X-T2, which has so much currently unfulfilled potential as a movie camera and which could be the best affordable Super 35 video camera if Fujifilm adds some crucial features to its firmware.
Cinematographer/director Paul Leeming’s letter to Fujifilm about the Fujifilm X-T2 Super 35/APS-C camera validated my own thoughts about the video-making potential of the X-Pro2 and what needs to be improved in its firmware.
This website, ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation, Success’, was set up as a storytelling project and not a curated content publication but every so often I come across articles by other people that illuminate and expand some of my own thoughts about what I am doing here and how I am doing it.
I came across three such articles about the how and with what, recently, about storytelling cameras and lenses that I currently use or have used in the past – rangefinder and rangefinder-style photographic instruments.
I love that word, instrument, used in conjunction with photographic storytelling. I seem to recall I first saw it used like that in a book about Leicas.
Photo essays in particular, to be successful, need to be made like a surgeon wielding a scalpel, a fine surgical instrument, and thus our cameras and lenses must be fine photographic instruments.
Then, to break the truism that all good things come in threes, and to continue the Leica thread, here is another Macfilos article about the recently released Panasonic Leica 12mm DG Summilux f/1.4 lens.
DxO Labs released version 3 of its DxO ViewPoint optical and perspective correction software product which functions as a stand-alone and a plug-in for popular image-editing software.
I put DxO ViewPoint 3’s new automatic correction functions to the test and give it a thumbs-up, with the hope that full EXIF support for Fujifilm X-Sensor raw files and files derived from them will be forthcoming.
One of the hardest things when converting over to a new camera system is choosing the right lenses and the right set of lenses for a specific set of tasks and to suit personal preferences.
That task is made especially difficult given one cannot simply walk into a store, pick several possibilities off the shelf, fire a series of photographs off under realistic circumstances and make some well-qualified judgements.
So, here is a page-in-progress about Fujifilm’s Fujinon lenses based on personal experience of owning them or at least having used them in the field.
Many thanks to Fujifilm Australia for the loaners, and I hope to keep adding to the list of lenses that I cover in this reference page.
Director/cinematographer Paul Leeming of Leeming LUT One and Visceral Psyche Films recently put Fujifilm’s X-T2 to the test alongside a range of other hybrid stills/video cameras, and believes that the X-T2 has the potential to be one of the best small, affordable Super 35 video production cameras on the market.
Mr Leeming comes from a classical feature film background and for some years owned and hired out several REDSuper 35 digital movie cameras. In recent years he has adopted the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4Super 16 camera as his mainstay, due to its advanced, near-complete moviemaking feature set.
The GH4’s successor, the GH5, due to appear sometime early 2017, looks set to acquire even more advanced moviemaking features. Meanwhile, there is a clear gap in the market for production-ready Super 35 cameras with Samsung discontinuing its very promising Samsung NX1 4K hybrid in 2015.
Unlike Samsung, Fujifilm has a long history of producing high-end video camera lenses, excellent stills lenses of all formats, and top quality integrated camera and lens systems in a number of formats under its own brand name and in collaboration with Hasselblad.
Add all that to Fujifilm’s achievements in making stills and movie film and the Japanese company has what it takes to produce one of the most sought-after Super 35 movie production cameras, if it wishes.
Fujifilm’s best first step would be to take on board Mr Leeming’s firmware and other suggestions, below, consult on a range of suitable lenses and commence work on an even more video-capable X-T2 successor, the X-T3 or X-T2S.
Fujifilm X-T2 Suggested Improvements, by Paul Leeming
Having tested two X-T2 cameras now, there are several fairly glaring omissions which would need to be added and/or fixed in order to present a credible filmmaking camera to the community.
1. White Balance in Video Mode
There is currently no way to set a custom white balance while in video mode, whereby you use a spectrally neutral white or grey reference card to balance out the RGB channels, then save that balance to one of the C1, C2 or C3 colour slots. Given that maximum dynamic range and colour tonality in 8bit 4:2:0 depends on extracting the fullest range out of each RGB channel, it is imperative that a Custom White Balance be easily achievable in any video mode, ideally able to be mapped to a Custom Function button so that a shooter can hit the function, auto white balance in video mode, and have the subsequent slot kept in operation until otherwise updated or changed.
To accurately judge where overexposure occurs, there is a need for zebras being active in all video modes. These zebras should ideally be adjustable, such that the user can set, for example, 70% IRE, and have it accurately reflected on screen. To judge overexposure, 100% IRE or 100% zebras should show where the clipping point is occuring in real time, so that the user can adjust iris, ISO or shutter as required to reduce exposure to the point where it is no longer clipping. For log-based shooting using F-log, the zebras should still accurately indicate where the clipping point is, even if it occurs before 100% IRE (for example, 79% IRE).
3. DCI 4K
The camera is very close to achieving this already. DCI 4K is 4096 x 2160 x 24.00fps. I’ve tested two different cameras and one had 24.00fps and 23.98fps listed separately; the other did not (different firmware I guess). Both of these however only allowed 3840 x 2160, not 4096 x 2160 as defined by DCI 4K. Having used the DCI 4K feature of the Panasonic GH4 camera previously to match cinema standards fully, the addition of 256 pixels of width plus the 24.00fps framerate would set the X-T2 in a rarified class of filmmaker cameras which actually support the full DCI 4K spec, as only a couple currently support that combination. Supporting the DCI 4K spec with the X-T2’s Super 35 size sensor would actually push it over the GH4 in terms of sensor size and capability, since the GH4 is a M43 sensor only.
The histogram does not show up in 4K shooting modes that I can see, but it should, along with the zebras mentioned above. Between the two, the filmmaker can easily judge exposure and adjust to maximise dynamic range without clipping anything in the shot. It needs to be a selectable option in all video modes.
5. Unlimited Recording Time
There are two things here that need addressing – first is the 10 minute limit without the added battery grip, and the second is the 30 minute limit even with the grip attached.
First off, there are basically no other cameras that limit their recording to under 30 minutes without needing an additional expense of a battery grip, which also adds bulk and weight to the camera. If this is really a hardware problem with not having enough power, then offer an option such as external power through a dummy battery or USB power input.
Second is the 30-minute artificial limitation to avoid taxing the camera as a video camera. This is purely arbitrary and given that most filmmakers often use their cameras for documentaries and interviews, etcetera, should be something that can be offered as an option, or at least done by region so that in the US, for example, you can sell the unlimited recording model (such as the Panasonic GH4 again, whose US and GH4R models offer unlimited recording time, limited only by the SD card or power running out).
6. F-Log Preview
Currently, I cannot view F-Log colourimetry until hitting record, which causes all sorts of issues with external monitoring using LUTs, etcetera. F-Log needs to show up in the colour space it natively uses, at all times, not only when hitting record.
7. F-Log Internal Recording
I am very aware of the potential issues for 8 bit 4:2:0 log recording to cause unwanted artifacts (see the GH4 for what NOT to do here). However, it should be something the user can choose to enable or not, for testing purposes and for those who don’t have an external recorder handy.
8. F-Log 10bit HDMI Output
The GH4 offers 10bit 4:2:2 HDMI output in full DCI 4K, and has done since it was released over two years ago. This should be the minimum standard going into 2017, and would definitely raise the X-T2’s filmmaker credibility.
There are probably more things I could suggest with further testing of the camera, but getting most of the above things fixed would go a long way to putting the X-T2 close to the top of the mirrorless APS-C camera pile for early 2017.
You have probably noticed I refer to the Panasonic GH4 a lot. That’s because it is the most well-designed consumer-facing mirrorless camera I’ve used and tested in depth (and the GH5 looks to best it in some significant ways in early 2017). It has ergonomic controls, a good monitor and lots of other features which make it easy to use on film sets. It really should be the minimum to aspire to in terms of all of the above, for the X-T2 and future cameras going forward.
Closing with my ultimate wishlist for a mirrorless camera in early 2017, in case you want to blow the industry wide open…
Full Frame sensor with no video mode crop.
DCI 4K (4096 x 2160 x 24.00fps) recording internally to 10bit 4:2:2 in whatever format/media works best.
Rolling shutter of less than 14ms.
13-14 stops of dynamic range minimum.
60fps maximum framerate using DCI 4K at full 10bit 4:2:2 internally.
I have been searching for quite some time now for the perfect software for beginners and professionals to use in editing their raw photo files, especially important given I have resumed teaching photography.
Although I have not seen a beta of Luminar or anything about it yet other than Macphun’s Luminar announcement page, based on the many positive traits of the company’s other software, this has the potential to be one of the best image editors and raw processors on the market.
Luminar has workspaces aplenty, from this simplified one for beginners…
… to this one for presets…
… and this one for more experienced image editors.
Luminar is replete with in-depth editing options and features too…
… and users can create their own speciality workspaces for specific types of subject matter.
Luminar combines many if not all the great image editing features found in other Macphun software such as Aurora and CH 2016.
As with all their other products, Luminar users can work in multiple layers and blending modes.
According to Macphun:
To make a long story short, it is a truly complete photo editing powerhouse. … Luminar pre-order starts on the 2nd of November. And the launch is scheduled for November 17.
With the arrival of an X-Pro2, lenses and the perfect messenger-style camera bag, my thoughts turned to plugging the gap left by other essentials I have been doing without for far too long – most of all a sturdy but portable tripod for on-location portraiture, cityscapes and time-lapse photography for use in videos.
The folks at 3 Legged Thing recommended their Equinox Leo as the perfect travel and portrait tripod to go with the perfect messenger-style bag, so it was a pleasant surprise when their Australian distributor, PROtog, kindly offered to send up a review loaner.
One of the first images, above, that I made with the 3LT Leo was a good demonstration of the tripod’s many virtues. Sydney Harbour and many of Sydney’s inner city streets are notorious for their high winds and sudden shotgun blasts of air – and they sometimes occur in this suburb far from the inner city.
Sydney’s winds can kill travel tripods
Umbrellas are not the only objects that easily fall victim to our winds. In his 2011 article, ‘Death of a beautiful camera…‘, cinematographer Philip Bloom described how his Panasonic Lumix GH2 and the lightweight travel tripod it was attached to were suddenly blown over a Sydney harbourside barrier into the drink, never to be seen again.
Channel-legged tripods with long, thin leg sections are a reasonably common sight in the streets of Sydney. I would be very reluctant to use DSLRs or larger mirrorless cameras like Fujifilm’s X-Pro and X-T2, or Panasonic’s Lumix GX8 and GH4, on tripods like this.
I had no hesitation in using any camera on the 3 Legged Thing Equinox Leo, from a Fujifilm X100 through the Lumix GX8 and GH4 up to a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR, even in windy locations like this high footbridge over the Pacific Highway.
While I have not experienced that kind of loss, I have had big problems with wind-generated vibration while shooting around Sydney’s CBD and even the exact same spot where Mr Bloom suffered his loss.
I have shot unusable wind-attacked footage on an aluminium video travel tripod and an older carbon fibre tripod, both weighted to no avail. I have resorted to shooting stills handheld at wider apertures than I would like in order to obtain faster shutter speeds and less likelihood of wind-caused camera shake.
Worse, I have avoided making photographs I have been longing to take that demand long lenses, narrow apertures, slow shutter speeds and in locations prone to high winds. I have a wonderful, big Australian-designed and made Miller video tripod that can cope with pretty much anything nature throws at it, but I can no longer cart it by train and over my back all about the city and so it moulds away in a closet.
An Australian foot in tripod history
One of that particular tripod’s key traits is the care with which its makers have woven its carbon fibre legs. I often mount a small slider on it and it handles the slider’s movement-caused vibration with aplomb, absorbing it beautifully, as it should.
Australian Eric Miller created the world’s first fluid head tripod back in 1946, so the company he founded knows movement and vibration. I learned that years ago learning how to shoot movie film using a Universal fluid head tripod with long wooden legs, similar to this one in the collection of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
But there are tripods and tripods, and there is no such thing as a universal tripod for shooting video and stills with equal facility.
Besides which, one tripod is never enough even on a single operator video shoot. Multicamera shoots endow visual richness to one’s work as do different types of footage often shot simultaneously, like time-lapse stills or bracketed HDR plates for compositing in post-production.
Harking back to the globetrotting Mr Bloom, I note that he has the same big Miller video tripod as I do, but supplements it with a range of smaller, lighter stills and video tripods as shown in his behind-the-scenes photographs for The Wonder List – which can be seen at his blog here (with a bit of searching).
The lightweight stills travel tripods Mr Bloom uses for time-lapse look good for that purpose, but I need something more – easily transportable but sturdy, and vibration and, without question, wind-resistant.
So, when the 3 Legged Thing Equinox Leo arrived and I set it up on the shiny wooden floors of our home studio, I was dead impressed. These floors challenge most tripods of any weight and size. Even the big Miller needs weights and bits of carpet underneath its feet for maximum stability on them.
Portrait of Brad. In my magazine editorial portrait days, one of my most popular types of photographs was the emotive, highly engaging full-face frontal portrait, usually shot with a 4”x5” view camera, 210mm Schneider-Keuznach lens on Polaroid Type 55 instant positive-negative film. The Leo does not extend high enough for that so I set it to fully extended then tilted the lens upwards for this heroic style of portrait.
Another style of photograph popular amongst my magazine editorial clients was the environmental portrait. I would rarely have more than fifteen minutes with a portrait subject so developed a rapid way of working. First, meet the subject, assess them, their environment and the objects with which they surrounded themselves. Second, visualize an effective shot then quickly set it up. The available light was rarely expressive enough so I carried small flash or continuous light units for supplementary lighting. Call in the subject and make the photograph, often with no more than four sheets of film. Then get straight off to the next assignment!
Behind-The-Scenes shot of the heroic full-face portrait, lit only with natural window light.
Behind-The-Scenes shot of the environmental portrait, again only using beautiful window light. Brad is an electronics engineer and he is holding a second-hand board that he recently bought at a trash-and-treasure sale.
My first carbon fibre stills tripod at left and the 3 Legged Thing Equinox Leo at right. The Manfrotto at left extends more than high enough for the perfect frontal full-face portrait though I would be reluctant to extend its centre column any higher than halfway due to vibration. On the other hand, the Leo is remarkably stable and vibration-free even at full extension like this.
Fighting off the superlatives
The 3LT Leo does not. I am fighting off the superlatives as I write this, having got it out of its bag to set it up next to me, loaded up with Fujifilm X-Pro 2 and 23mm f/1.4 lens to shoot some environmental portraits and in-situ product shots shortly.
The Leo’s sturdiness and stability even on these slick varnished floors belies its size and five-section narrow carbon fibre legs. Of all the tripods I have here right now, the Leo is the closest in those two traits to the big Miller, despite being smaller than them all.
3 Legged Thing is not exaggerating when the company describes itself as “market leader in tripod innovation”. Their Equinox range is seriously innovative, so much so that it qualifies for an ‘Untitled: Stories of Creativity, Innovation & Success‘ photoessay under all three categories.
Guys, next time I am in the UK, shall we catch up and do one?
A high bridge over the Pacific Highway near where we live and work. It is often subject to medium and sometimes high winds.
I have detected faint vibrations in the carbon fibre legs of other tripods I have used in this position but could not feel any vibration in the 3LT Equinox Leo’s legs.
Luckily the self-appointed tripod police are not active in this suburb but I have encountered them in inner city Sydney and especially in public areas like parks and bridges. Will the 3LT Equinox Leo’s unconventional appearance help fob them off in future? Fingers crossed.
Peak Design Everyday Messenger 13 camera bag with 3 Legged Thing Equinox Leo bag. Both are easy to carry on location and during long inner urban or suburban photo walks.
3 Legged Thing Equinox Leo with carrying bag, carabinier and Allen keys. The bag can act as ballast for the tripod by attaching it to the D-Ring on the tripod’s center column via the carabinier. In really heavy winds, place some objects in the bag.
Leo, the smallest tripod in 3 Legged Thing’s Equinox range, fits well into the Peak Design Everyday Messenger 13’s tripod sleeve. Extend the legs a little then place the provided rubber band around the end of the legs. I haven’t tried this with the larger Albert tripod but I suspect it fits well too.
Peak Design has a relationship with 3 Legged Thing as can be seen by similarities in the custom Arca-Swiss-style mounting plates made by each company. 3LT’s Arca-Swiss plate is at upper right. Love that logo!
Peak Design’s Anchor Links can be attached just as easily to 3 Legged Thing’s Arca-Swiss plates as they can to Peak Design’s own tripod plates.
Some initial scepticism, but…
I have to admit to some degree of scepticism when I first came across 3 Legged Thing online. The funky naming conventions, some bro-ish imagery in an earlier version of their website, the disappointment when finally seeing a now discontinued 3LT micro-tripod in a local store last year, the shop assistant’s negativity at a Sydney city pro-ish camera store.
But, trying the Leo out for real has changed everything. I would recommend any of 3LT’s Equinox tripods without reservations. During my trip into the city to shoot the Sydney Harbour photograph at the top of this page, I dropped into a camera store for a “what’s new” and was pleased to see three 3LT Equinox tripods – Leo, Albert and Winston – sitting amidst the tripod display in the middle of the store.
A chance to quickly try out all three!
You get what you pay for…
My all-too-brief in-store tryout of Albert and Winston, in order to compare them to Leo and to understand the 3LT brand as a whole, helped lay to rest some of the negative comments I had heard about their tripods in the past.
The three most common were about the length of each leg segment, the action of the Para-Lock locking collars, and the price.
You do get what you pay for, for the most part, but I have paid far more for less state-of-the-art tripods in the past. There will always be cheaper tripods than Leo, Albert or Winston but best to compare them directly against their competitors. Easier said than done though without access to retail wonderlands like the B&H store in New York where every product in every brand under the sun appears to be available for a damned good look-see.
Tripods rarely receive in-depth reviews in print or online publications. One reviewer stated the reason was that tripods, unlike other items of photographic hardware, need to be tested under a wide range of conditions and for much longer than the usual two-week trial period.
Tripods should be put to the test in rain, hail, sunshine, heat and cold with a range of subjects and circumstances for a really comprehensive review. They are the least complicated item in a photographer’s or moviemaker’s kit, and will need to last far longer than almost every other hardware investment.
I am aware of costlier brands of stills tripods that are more popular amongst professional photographers of my acquaintance than 3 Legged Thing. Really Right Stuff is one and its tripods look dead impressive online but I have never seen one in real life. 3LT’s Equinox three have performed better than any other stills tripod I have tested or owned so far, and I have owned more than a few stills tripods in the past.
My trial of Leo and quick tryouts of Albert and Winston show you get what you pay for with all three and you get a lot more than with any of my other stills photography tripods past or present, cheaper or more expensive.
A real pleasure…
Using Leo has been a real pleasure. Objections raised by other photographers and camera store assistants such as Leo’s Para-Locks dual action and its five short leg sections simply weren’t a problem for me. Yes, the way the Para-Locks feel when unlocking them can be disconcerting at first, but familiarity erases any fears.
Likewise I had no problem with five leg sections instead of two or three, say. Leo is a micro-travel tripod and its small size is key to carrying it with ease. It wasn’t a burden transported in its soft grey canvas shoulder bag or slid into the Peak Design Everyday Messenger 13.
After a while I opted to carry it in its own bag as that offered more flexibility when slipping through inner city crowds or standing up on overburdened trains. I could flip Leo right around my back while the EDM13 stood at front to side, ready to offer up a camera, facilitate a quick lens change or battery swap.
At other times I swung both around to my back while shooting, EDM13 and tripod counterbalancing camera and lens at front. I spent long days shooting stills in the inner city that way, and neither bag was a burden. That is something I could never claim of other tripods and their bags.
Another very pleasant surprise courtesy of my time with Leo was its ballhead. With the sole exception of my Joby GorillaPod Focus, I have not been a ballhead aficionado. All my full-length stills tripods have featured three-way heads with handles and my video tripods, and monopods, have had traditional-style fluid heads.
The solid, reassuring action of 3 Legged thing’s AirHed light ballhead that came with Leo as a kit has changed my thinking about ballheads now, especially those featuring Arca-Swiss clamps. Its speed of set-up, ease-of-use and stability whether holding the camera in landscape or portrait orientation is impressive.
The winds of spring return with a vengeance
As winter slid into warmer weather, the customary winds of Sydney’s spring returned with a vengeance and although I continued to be impressed with Leo’s wind-resistance, I found myself wishing for more stability again, especially when shooting on steep, grassy Sydney hillsides.
As I explored the 3 Legged Thing website I discovered the 3LT team is one step ahead with a range of well-conceived accessories to replace their tripods’ default rubber feet aka Bootz. Heels, Stilletoz and Clawz provide firmer footing on dodgy surfaces like rocks, ice, sand and snow and should prove essential to photographers venturing outside inner cities and suburban reaches.
Some of my tripods past and present have come with feet made of rubber or plastic over short spikes so the spikes can be exposed when their synthetic covers are screwed back up the leg. These designs are a compromise though where the soft option is often not soft enough and the hard choice is often not long enough for good grip on every challenging surface.
I much prefer 3LT’s offerings of alternative screw-in feet designed to grip almost every surface you will come across. When I buy my own 3LT tripod, I will definitely be adding two or all three of them.
The Braun ET-66 calculator, designed by Dieter Rams and Dietrich Lubs in the 1980s, is an evolution of Rams’ original ET-22 calculator. We have both models in our collection and they remain in use. The Braun ET-66 depicted here is from the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
The Braun Station T1000 Multiband Portable Radio, a classic radio design amply embodying Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design. This radio is in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
3 Legged Thing’s Equinox Leo is a thing of beauty that is eminently functional and a real pleasure to carry and to use. Some might consider this to be something of a stretch, but I found Leo and its stablemates Albert and Winston to be in a similar league to products above made by some of the finest designers and manufacturers of the last century, such as Braun and its legendary design director Dieter Rams.
I even found myself comparing Leo to a Fabergé egg more than once or twice due to the colours and finish of its Para-Locks and other functional hardware. While tripods have historically been plain things of black and grey, or black, chrome and wood, 3 Legged Thing has gone beyond other tripod makers like, for example, MeFoto, bestowing its products with almost jewel-like colours and finishes.
3LT’s tripods don’t sacrifice looks for functionality. They are amongst the most functional tripods I have tried or owned and their core functionality can be extended further with the choice of those three different interchangeable feet. I wish there were video tripods as well designed and engineered as these.
While I won’t be adding a Leo to the top of my photo hardware wishlist, I will be getting an Albert as soon as budget permits, with interchangeable feet and all.
As my portraits of Brad the electronics engineer above show, I am now restless to return to two forms of photography I loved so much for so long – environmental and full-face frontal portraiture – especially now that cameras so well-suited like the Fujifilm GFX 50S are about to appear.
While Leo satisfies a number of my on-location and in-studio needs, Albert has the height to look at standing portrait subjects in the eye or to gaze downwards at seated or standing environmental portrait subjects.
Bravo, 3 Legged Thing! You have come up with some real winners.
“One of the truths of air travel with camera gear is that the maximum amount of gear photographers can carry is limited by the smallest plane on which they’ll be traveling…. Designed for traveling on commuter or regional jets, the [Airport Advantage’s] customized interior holds the maximum amount of gear that will fit in overhead bins or under seats. In addition, its ultralight design lets photographers pack more gear while staying under airlines’ increasingly vigilant weight restrictions….
Meets U.S. and International airline carry-on requirements…