When Apple introduced the 2016 MacBook Pro, it followed the design of the MacBook and replaced all the ports with USB-C (or what Apple calls Thunderbolt 3) ports. Our initial impression is very mixed as USB-C is a very fast interface (up to 40 Gbps) but the connector itself is very flimsy/frail/non-robust/weak. The USB-C connector is about the size and build quality of a USB2 Micro-B connector which is the little connector that most Android phones use to charge. And anyone with a Android phone will tell you those connectors break and fail all the time. USB-C on the left and USB-Micro-B on the right. Both pretty flimsy, right? So, what does that mean for tethered shooting? First it means you're going to need plenty of adapters because there are hardly any USB-C devices out there including camera tether cables. Although if anyone does start making USB-C tether cables, we would stay away from them. As of early 2019, you are still better off using your USB2 or USB3 tether cable with a USB-C adapter for the fact that the USB-C connector is so flimsy that you'll probably be breaking the connector a lot. Just the weight of a tether cable is enough to bend the USB-C connector let alone someone jerking the cable. You'll be better off using USB-C to USB adapters as they are only a few dollars each which will be a lot easier on your wallet when you break them. We found this USB-C to USB-A dongle on Amazon and it's been our goto adapter for the past 2 years. And so far we have not had any connection or data problems using them. We previously recommended a rigid stick adapter (the ones that kind of look like a thumb drive) but because they are rigid they lose connection to easily. When shooting tethered, we recommend using some kind of cable stability and management system like the one found on the DigiPlate Pro. This will drastically reduce the cable losing connection and broken connectors. The cable stability system you use really needs to be absolutely rigid like the DigiPlate Pro that keeps the the cable connector from moving at all—not even a millimeter. The USB-C connector is so thin and flimsy that just little movements that could result from using a non-rigid system like some of those string based cable stoppers will give you cable errors and disconnections while shooting tethered. The USB-C ports are so flimsy so you'll want some sort of cable stabilization like on this DigiPlate Pro otherwise you'll spend the day either reconnecting your tether cable or breaking the USB-C connector.
When shooting tethered, you and everyone on set want to see what's popping up on your capture computer. When it's just you, an art director and maybe one client, huddling around your laptop is not a big deal. But as your productions get bigger and three people huddling turns into ten or twenty, then it starts to become a problem. Enter the client monitor. Ideally you want it at least 100 feet from the camera—it's just too many people around the camera and it gets crowded fast. You can wire an external monitor to your capture computer but that creates another wire on set to trip over, 100 feet for a wired connection is pushing it and sometimes you need more than 100 feet for other various reasons. In the past, Nine Volt's owner, photographer Dana Neibert, has used HDMI wireless transmitters to get the capture images over to the client monitor. But HDMI wireless transmitters are notoriously troublesome and unreliable. And they are very expensive. For many years Dana used the Teradek Bolt Pro 300 which is one of their most affordable options and runs about $2,000 for a transmitter and receiver. The Bolt Pro 300 is supposed to transmit 300 feet which we have never gotten it to do. It's usually in the 50 foot range and sometimes even shorter if there's other air wave competition. BTW, the $300 Gefen Wireless Extender works just as well as the five times as expensive Bolt Pro 300. There are units by Teradek and others that can go farther but those systems are $7,000+. So, we came up with this idea of using Wi-Fi to get the job done. With the new AC Wi-Fi routers out there, you can definitely and easily get beyond 100 feet. With Wi-Fi there is the opportunity to use multiple routers to repeat the signal if you want to go a far distance. Also, if you shoot on a property like a hotel or resort with a large Wi-Fi system, you could put the video village just about anywhere you want. Another request from Dana was to make the client monitor and all it's parts a single unit so it can be popped in and out of a case without someone spending ten minutes finding and connecting cables, securing transmitters, etc. The picture below is the result and contains the monitor, a MacBook Air 11" and a Wi-Fi router. The basic principle is your capture computer and the MacBook both connect to the WiFi Router. The MacBook is connected to the large monitor and using Apple Remote Desktop, observes everything your capture computer is doing. A bonus that we added to the system is the Wi-Fi is battery powered and both of them, as a whole unit, can detach from the system. This can effectively double your range as you can now remove the Wi-Fi unit, place it on a stand and then move the client monitor another couple hundred feet. The battery is from Paul Buff (they make the Alien Bees), is Lithium (130wh) and easily lasts all day long. The other bonus of using a battery on the Wi-Fi is that when you move your location and unplug the monitor, the Wi-Fi stays powered up and you don't have to wait for it to boot up when you plug the monitor back in. The monitor system up and running in normal mode. The monitor system with the Wi-Fi module removed to double your range. The WiFi module removed from the main system and mounted on a c-stand. The system in action. OK, we're not pushing any limits here but you get the idea. The monitor could just as easily be placed up on the bridge or the other side of the track while getting a live feed from the capture computer which is next to the camera. An alternative to the MacBook is to use an Apple TV to mirror your capture computer but every Apple TV we tested gives a softer picture than using the MacBook so that any images viewed can look slightly out of focus which may drive your clients mad. Using the MacBook there is no difference in image quality between the capture computer and the client monitor. If you are interested in making something similar, here are the components we used: Apple MacBook Air 11" which you can usually get a better deal at B&H. Monoprice 27" IPS Monitor (BTW, this monitor has the same IPS panel that Apple puts in their iMacs and Cinema Displays. TP-Link AC1900 Wi-Fi router. Very fast and great range for about $125 at B&H or Amazon. DigiSystem MacBook Air Clamps which you can get from Inovativ. DigiBase (you'll need two—one for the whole system, one for the Wi-Fi module) also from Inovativ. Li-Ion Battery from Paul Buff. DC Converter to take the voltage from the battery from 16.4V to 12V for the Wi-Fi router. Apple Remote Desktop software
People always ask us what the best way is to customize their DigiCase Pro. We've been using the TrekPak dividers with great success. They are easily customizable to create nice compartments under your DigiPlate Pro to store cables, hard drives, a DigiShade Pro, etc. We recommend accessorizing the bottom of your DigiPlate first so you'll have a better game plan when figuring where your dividers can and can't go. The TrekPak dividers can be purchased at both B&H and Amazon for $95.
Our founder, Dana Neibert, just returned from a commercial shoot in which he ran into a problem that he normally doesn't encounter. Usually, he shoots tethered which for the most part is instantaneous feedback as each image pops up on the screen as he shoots. But last week he shot a job where he was shooting to the CF memory card and shooting about 32GB every 15 minutes at which time each 32GB CF card had to be ingested into a computer so everyone could do a quick review. But waiting for 32GB of images to import while precious daylight was changing was not ideal. He was using the fastest SanDisk Extreme Pro CF cards which can transfer data at up to 160MB per second. Using what is usually regarded as the fastest CF card reader, the Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot reader, each card was taking about 3.5 minutes to import into Capture One Pro. That doesn't seem like a long time unless you have 25 crew and clients standing around anxiously waiting to see the latest images. So we did a test this week as he will be shooting for the same client again in two weeks and wants to cut that time in half if possible. Doing a little research, we found that 160MB/s cards are the fastest CF cards out there. It doesn't really matter what brand as they all more or less use the same chips inside and they have to base their speed rating on practical tests or risk losing all credibility. We've always used SanDisk Extreme Pro CF cards but as far as we know the Lexar Professional CF cards perform just as well. Also, history has always dictated that CF cards outperform SD cards. But we decided to try a little SD card called the Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC/SDXC UHS-II. The speed rating on this card is 300MB/s which is nearly twice as fast as the fastest CF cards. But can an SD card really perform that well? Here's what we found. We filled two 32GB cards with raw camera images. The two cards were the SanDisk Extreme Pro CF and the Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC/SDXC UHS-II. The cards are rated at 160MB/s and 300MB/s, respectively. Below is a chart detailing the transfer speeds from each card to the latest MacBook Pro Retina with an SSD rated about 900MB/s which is more than adequate for both of those cards. You can see that CF card beats the SDHC/SDXC card using the trusty Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot reader. The internal MacBook Pro SD reader nets about the same import speed for the SDHC/SDXC card. But the SDHC/SDXC card really blows away the CF card once the dedicated Lexar UHS-II USB 3.0 reader is used. Next we checked the in-camera performance of the SDHC/SDXC card versus the CF card. We wanted to see if there were any compromises in using an SDHC/SDXC card instead of the trusty workhorse CF cards. We used a Nikon D810 which has become one of the new standards in commercial photography as it produces very large 36 megapixel images. Each card was formatted in camera and the camera shot at five frames per second until the buffer maxed out. Here's what we found. You can see the CF card barely/slightly outperforms the SDHC/SDXC in the camera. But with the price of SDHC/SDXC cards vs. CF cards and the import speed to the computer, the SDHC/SDXC card is clearly the way to go—especially when you start going to the higher capacity 64GB and 128GB cards those transfer times will double and triple. The Nikon D810 SD slot speed is only UHS-I but as cameras start to implement UHS-II slot speeds, you can expect the SD performance to greatly increase. By the same token, we're pretty sure CF cards will be introducing faster speeds in the near future to keep the race even. You can see the UHS-II card on the left has additional pins that the standard SD, high speed and UHS-I SD cards do not have. Most likely these extra pins are providing the extra bandwidth to help the UHS-II cards achieve these high transfer speeds. Like we stated above, we're really not married to any brand of memory card. But you will want to probably stay with better known name brands like SanDisk and Lexar as they do produce a quality product that, especially with memory cards, you won't want to take chances with. We chose the Lexar SDHC/SDXC card over the comparable SanDisk SDHC/SDXC as for some reason the prices are really far apart and the Lexar card comes with the ultra high speed reader. Here's a bit of a roundup of all the cards and readers covered in this article. Lexar Professional 2000x 32GB SDHC/SDXC UHS-II/U3 w/USB 3.0 Reader/Image Rescue 5 Software $54.95 at Amazon and B&H SanDisk Extreme PRO SDHC/SDXC UHS-II Memory Card (This is the SanDisk equivalent of the Lexar SDHC/SDXC card we tested—we're not sure why it is double the price.) $58.88 at Amazon and $59.95 at B&H SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB CompactFlash Memory Card UDMA 7 $44.95 at Amazon and B&H Lexar Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot reader $34.95 at Amazon and B&H
The DigiCaseMount will allow you to mount your DigiCase, Pelican 1510 or Pelican 1490 case to just about any stand or tripod. The DigiCaseMount is made from aircraft grade 6061 aluminum which is both lightweight and extremely strong. The DigiCaseMount is secured to your case with 8 bolts to ensures a tight and secure fit. The wide footprint of the DigiCaseMount along with the 8 securing bolts gives a sturdy and strong base for your case to eliminate slop and flexing. Check it out here.
The DigiCameraPlate attaches to the bottom of your DSLR and uses a friction system to keep tether cables from pulling out the dainty connectors that most tether cables are equipped with. The friction system is so effective, you can actually carry the camera around by the tether cable. Our founder is a working commercial photographer and regularly lowers ten pound cameras to his assistants from atop ladders, cherry pickers, etc. (they don't like it—it makes them nervous). Check out the DigiCameraPlate here.
Drones are becoming more and more accessible and affordable. You can go anywhere from a very expensive Freefly Cinestar Octocopter to a very affordable DJI Phantom 2. What most people don't realize is that now that you are airborne you are an aircraft and are subject to many of the same laws and regulations that a pilot flying a Boeing 787 is. To keep yourself on the right side of the law, a few tips from the APA and aerial photographer Cameron Davidson can be found here.
USB tethering with your camera has been around for many years. But as fantastic as it is, it comes with it's share of headaches; corrupt files, dropped connections, slow transfers. The biggest culprit is low voltage in your USB bus. Moving large amounts of data requires some power on the USB bus. When the voltage falls below spec levels, then you will start to experience issues. Sometimes with USB 3.0, when your computer sees the low voltage, it will automatically downgrade your bus speed to USB 2.0 speeds (10x slower) to compensate. We created a 6-port hub/repeater that works either self-powered or with an included AC adapter. Simply put the unit inline with your tether cable and it will keep you shooting all day long. As a self-powered repeater, it will take the power on the USB bus and amplify/repeat the power so that you can use 30+ foot long tether cables all day long. Since it is a 6-port hub, if you use multiple cameras or connect a couple self-powered drives, you'll want to connect the AC adapter as your USB bus will probably not be able to power all the devices. The repeater is USB 3.0 SuperSpeed and backward compatible with USB 2.0 devices. You can see complete specs here.
Here's another killer tutorial from Aaron Nace at Phlearn that will come in handy at about this time of year. This video gives you a step-by-step tutorial on adding realistic snow flakes to your image. Check it out in the video below and also head on over to Phlearn's blog post to read all about it here.
A transport case has been our number one requested piece of equipment since launching the DigiPlate line. The DigiCase is based on the Pelican 1510 case for its ruggedness and it is also the largest size case you can carry-on on a commercial airline. The DigiCase active suspension system suspends the DigiPlate Pro in the middle of the case so you can leave your laptop and all your accessories attached to the DigiPlate Pro during transport. Then just pop open the case and you are ready to get to work. There is also a ton of room for cables, extra hard drives, camera bodies and lenses underneath the DigiPlate Pro. For more details and pictures, click here.