New Insta360 ONE R

Insta360 just launched their latest 360 camera, the ONE R. It’s actually a modular system and not a single, self-contained camera. Only time will tell, but it seems like the ONE R could be an innovative approach to  solving the problem of how to pack the burgeoning features we are seeing in the action and 360 camera spaces into a workable form factor. Certainly Insta360 seems to have doubled down their focus on the using 360 as coverage for standard 16:9 action shots.

The ONE R starts with a battery base and a touch screen that sits on top (it can be installed forwards or backwards depending on the use case) next to an empty space that could include one of the following:

  • A 5.7K 360 camera
  • A 4K action camera that records at 60fps for 4K and 200fps for 1080p
  • A 5.3K wide-angle (14.4mm equivalent) mod co-developed with Leica that has a 1-inch sensor (30fps for 5.3K, 60fps for 4K, and 120fps for 1080p) This module was developed with the help of camera company Leica.

 

 

Key features include:

  • Insta360’s FlowState stabilization is a key part of all three modules.
  • Waterproof to 16 feet, despite the module design
  • Aerial mod that makes it possible to hide your drone from footage
  • External mic support
  • Various remote control options, including Apple Watch, voice, and a GPS enabled smart remote
  • Selfie stick
  • Motion tracking to lock in on subjects
  • Tons of software/ post production options like bullet time, time lapse, slo mo, etc.

We’re not seeing a ton of immediate academic use cases for features such as the above, but will certainly keep the ONE R in mind if the right project arises.

 

Behind the Scenes of “Posters, Actually”

This year, I had the privilege of working with Mark Delong to bring his annual poster symposium deadline video to life. You can watch the whole video here: https://youtu.be/OGDSXK5crd8

Mark had a particularly ambitious vision for this year’s video, so I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss our creative process and how we tackled various production challenges.

We began development in October, when Mark provided a ten-page script for the project, with multiple scenes and characters. More than just a simple song parody, he envisioned what amounted to a short film – one that matched, scene for scene, the Billy Mack plotline from 2001 movie Love Actually. While we would eventually narrow the scope of the script, it was clear early on that I would need to ensure the production value matched Mark’s cinematic vision. Among other things, this included filming for a wider aspect ratio (2.55:1 versus the typical 16:9), using our DSLR for better depth of field, and obtaining a camera stabilizer so I could add some movement to the shots.

The first two things were relatively straightforward. I’d use our Sony aIII to film in 4k and crop the video to the desired aspect ratio. We didn’t have a stabilizer, so I did a little research and our team ended up purchasing the Zhi Yun Weebil Lab package. In this review post, I go into more detail regarding our experience using it. Having not had the opportunity to work with a gimbal like this before, I enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with the new tool.

Our first day filming was at the WXDU radio station at the Rubenstein Arts Center. They were kind enough to let us use their podcast recording studio which was the perfect set for the Tina and Tom scene. I quickly realized the first challenge in recording with the stabilizer would be capturing good audio. The size of the stabilizer simply didn’t allow me to affix a shotgun mic to my camera and I didn’t have anyone else to work a boom mic for me. Ultimately, I decided to run two cameras – a stationary 4k Sony Camcorder that would capture audio and provide some basic shot coverage, and then roam with the stabilized DSLR. Between running two cameras, directing the performers, and making sure we captured everything we needed, I was spinning a lot of plates. To combat this, we filmed the scene multiple times to ensure we had redundant takes on every line which provided a much-needed safety net in editing.

We filmed every other shot on green screen at the Technology Engagement Center. Though at first simpler than shooting a three-person dialogue scene, it came with its own challenges. Principally, contrary to most green screen filming we do, the intention here was to make the performers look like they were on a real set. This meant anticipating the angle and lighting conditions of the background we’d place them on. Though it wouldn’t be seamless, the goofy nature of the video would hopefully allow us some leeway in terms of how realistic everything needed to look. Since I was moving the camera, the hardest part was making the background move in a natural parallax behind Mark. This was easy enough when the camera stayed at the same distance but almost impossible to get right when I moved the camera toward him. For this reason,  at the poster symposium scene I faded the composited elements behind Mark to just a simple gradient, justified by the dreamy premise of this part of the video.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was not related to video at all. For the song parody, we recorded using a karaoke backing track we found on YouTube. However, the track had built-in backing vocals that were almost impossible to remove. Luckily, we had our own rock star on staff, Steve Toback, who was able to create a soundalike track from scratch using GarageBand. His version ended up being so good that when we uploaded the final video to YouTube, the track triggered an automated copyright claim.

Were I to do it all over again, there’s a few things I would try to do differently. While running the stabilizer, I would try to be more conscious of the camera’s auto-focus, as it would sometimes focus on the microphones in front of the performer, rather than the performer themselves. I sometimes forgot I’d be cropping the video to a wider aspect ratio and framed the shot for a 16:9 image, so I would try to remind myself to shoot a little wider than I might normally. Overall though, I’m satisfied with how everything turned out. I’m grateful for all the support during the production, particularly to Mark and Steve, without whom none of this would have been possible.

iPhone 11 Announced with Improvements to Camera

Iphone 11 Pro Camera

They say the best camera is the one you have with you. With Apple’s upgrades to the camera in the recently announced iPhone 11 series, this adage may be more true than ever.

For most of our production on online courses, we mostly use a Sony Handycam for it’s versatility, and DSLR for interviews or other beauty shots. However, in the course of filming, I often find myself reaching for my iPhone 8 to supplement that footage. For a course on Nanotechnology, I used the slo-mo feature to capture how liquid nitrogen can make everyday objects more fragile. For some behind-the-scenes b-roll, I found the built-in stabilization allowed me to capture extended tracking shots with few hiccups.

The iPhone 11’s improved camera now makes a strong case for filming on a phone in many scenarios. The Verge has a great write-up of the specifics, but the highlights to me are:

  • Wide-Angle Lens on Base Model – I’ve often found myself in rather small settings where I simply couldn’t get back far enough with our traditional cameras to get everything I needed in one shot. Here, in lieu of investing a dedicated wide-angle lens for the DSLR, I could try subbing in my iPhone to get the one wide-shot I need.
  • Recording on Multiple Camera on 11 Pro – This is a great solution for when you need to shoot first and ask questions later. Though it will surely take up a lot of storage place, having more flexibility in post-production is always a good thing.
  • Audio Zoom on 11 Pro – I always recommend that videographers using an iPhone use an external mic to capture dialogue. If this feature can isolate audio coming from a central on-camera subject, that could make impromptu video interviews much more feasible.

Benchmarking the Dell XPS Tower vs the Apple iMac (2019)

Overview

In July of 2019, the Duke Media Productions team was due for an upgrade on our computers. Through a mix of research, budgeting, and consultation (the fine folks at Adobe were incredibly helpful) , we arrived at two candidates with nearly equivalent specifications: the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition and the 27″ Apple iMac (2019).  Both machines are summarized below:

Premiere Pro Recommended Specs Dell XPS Tower Special Edition Apple iMac (2019)
Processor Intel 7th Gen or newer Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core) Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core)
RAM 32GB for 4K media or higher 64GB 64GB
GPU 4GB of GPU VRAM NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB VRAM Radeon Pro 580X 8GB VRAM
Storage Fast SSD 1TB SSD 1TB SSD
Price $3,564.72* $4,480.60**

(More…)

Logitech Rally – DDMC Recap

While Logitech has been in the small conference space for some time, when Logitech introduced the Rally platform in the summer of 2018, the AV industry took notice. In essence, the Logitech Rally is a modular video conferencing system for mid- to large-meeting spaces. The platform, coming in two variations, costs $2000 and $2500 respectively. The standard package has a 4K USB PTZ camera, single speaker bar, display hub, table hub, and a single mic pod. The $2500 “Plus” adds an additional speaker pod and mic pod.

Initial Impressions:
We’ve been using the Logitech Rally in our Zoom Room lab for approximately two months, and the experience has been nothing but positive. The PTZ USB camera offers a stunning image and is recognized by the Zoom Room environment. With a few taps of the touch panel, we configured the camera presets with ease. The mic pods have been a pleasant surprise. While unintrusive, they pack the punch necessary for a large room. On a number of occasions we’ve been asked, “What mics are you using? They sound great!” While our configuration doesn’t utilize the two HDMI pass-thru via a Cat 6+ cable, it’s nice knowing that it’s available should we change the setup in the future. As for the speakers, they provide enough audio to fill the room… perhaps too much audio as we’ve had a few complaints.

(Above: Logitech Rally Setup at OIT’s Digitial Media Lab)

So, where would you deploy such a system? Basically, anywhere that is using a soft codec (Microsoft Teams Rooms, Zoom Rooms, Google Hangout Meet), or anywhere you simply want a computer to have access to a nice AV system for WebEx, Skype, etc. Some may argue that $2500 is expensive for a Logitech device, but I’d say that in some small spaces, we’re spending nearly as much, if not more, for a single camera (minus the mics, speakers, transport, etc. etc.). But, when paired with a Zoom Room or similar platform… the Logitech Rally shines.

My only complaint: (and I hope that if I complain enough, they’ll offer it as an option) I’d like to see a hanging mic option for the platform. I’m not sure how they would do that, but it would be a big win from our perspective.

 

Sony PTZ Cameras

Sony visited Duke University’s Technology Engagement Center this past week to review their pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera offerings. Starting at the entry level, Sony showcased the SRG120, ideal for small conference rooms or classrooms on a budget. The optics held up well compared to Sony’s more expensive offerings, but one limitation of the SRG120 is that it can’t be mounted upside down, not a primary concern but something to consider. The SRG360SHE is a mid-tier camera ideally suited for larger event spaces where flexibility is key. The SRG360SHE can send content over an IP network connection, 3G-SDI and HDMI at the same time. The image quality was very clear and the movements were smooth. Rounding out Sony’s top-of-the-line offering, the BRCX1000 is a 4K studio quality PTZ camera ideally suited for production environments where image quality is king. While the $9000+ price tag may scare off many AV folks, when comparing it to the cost of hiring an outside group to film events or a second videographer for multi-cam events, the return on investment can be measured in months.

What PTZ camera review would be complete without control interfaces. Sony demonstrated their new PTZ camera remote controller, the RMIP500. It’s clear Sony has learned from their previous controllers as the PMIP500 has a number of features, such as the ability to lock out areas of the control, that will make controlling your cameras a real joy. It can connect to 100 PTZ cameras and is incredibly customizable. The RMIP10 is Sony’s entry-level control device.

Finally, Sony demonstrated two of their 4K professional monitor. Yes, these are the displays true videographers use when filming their next movie for their legendary clarity and color accuracy. It’s hard to think of a use case at the University side of things, but this is the type of display I’d expect to see in a medical environment where image quality is literally a life or death situation.

Insta360 ONE X

Insta360 steps into the world of action cameras with a big upgrade of their flagship Insta360 ONE.

Here are some high of the features that together are generating a lot of buzz for this device:

  • Retains $399 price
  • Insta360’s trademark FlowState stabilization seems exceptional based on the sample videos shown on the company’s website
  • Optional 5-meter and 30-meter clear housing for diving/ watersports
  • Optional disappearing selfie stick
  • 5.7K 30fps, 4K 50fps, 3K 100fps
  • Optional airplane-shaped “drifter” you can insert the device in and toss for dynamic action shots

Full details: https://www.insta360.com/product/insta360-onex/

 

 

Go Pro Fusion 360 Camera

One of our goals on the DDMC forum over the past couple years has been to keep pace with innovations in 360 camera technology in their application at Duke. We’ve covered milestones from the still awesome Insta360 Nano introduced in early 2017 all the way to the new 6-lens Insta360 Pro 360, which opens the door to 8k in the prosumer sphere. Since GoPro is such an important player in the world of portable action cameras, we wanted to note their foray into the 360 camera space with their new Go Pro Fusion (~$700.00). While the claim GoPro makes that the Fusion is “arguably the most versatile creative tool ever made” is, well, arguable, it is an interesting camera and worth considering if you’re planning on purchasing a 360 camera.

As you would expect from a company built around sports footage, one of the benefits of the Go Pro is its durable design and the thinking that has gone into how the Fusion can function as an ergonomic accessory for someone engaged in physical activity. For example, it has a solid hand-held design and can be extended using a disappearing selfie stick that most reviewers seem to appreciate. In addition, it can be voice activated to make it easy when operating the unit from a distance.

Benefits

  • Durable housing
  • Selfie stick attachment disappears when aligned with camera body
  • Built-in image stabilization (non-gimbal)
  • High res (5.2K)
  • “OverCapture” is a well-conceived framework for accessing and exporting segments of video in post production
  • Voice control

Drawbacks

  • One of the significant differences between the Fusion and other 360 cameras is the requirement for two SD cards, and the fact that each of the two lenses writes their footage separately to each card. This means that in order for you to obtain a full 360 video you’ll need to use the editing software, which adds time and difficulty to the process of creating a video. Takes a long time to export footage. Between 20 and 45 minutes per minute of footage in GoPro Fusion Studio.
  • Large files sizes for exported videos: ~4.5 GB/ minute at 5.2K in Pro Res format (~ 1 GB/minute at 4K H.264)
  • The unit can get hot when operating
  • Mobile software hasn’t been getting great reviews

Here is a fairly through review of the Fusion that delves into many of the nuances of the Fusion and could be helpful if you’re considering making a purchase:

Insta360 Pro: 360 Video in 8K

When viewing 360 video with a VR headset, a high resolution can make the difference between an immersive experience and a blurry novelty. We’ve recently been working with the Insta360 Pro which is capable of filming in 8K and it’s produced some of the sharpest 360 video I’ve seen yet.

Like other 360 cameras we’ve tested recently (such as the Garmin VIRB) operating the Insta360 Pro is a relatively simple procedure of point and shoot (or in the case of filming in 360, just shoot). After a minute-long boot-up sequence, you just navigate to the video icon in the camera’s menu screen and hit enter. An Android/iOS app will also allow you to remotely control the recording. In addition to recording in 8K, you can also configure the camera to record in 3D/stereoscopic 360, or up to 120 frames per second, though not all at once. Prioritizing a high FPS or 3D means reducing the resolution to 6K or 4K.

Once turned on, the camera’s cooling fan will start running which is quite noisy. This could be an issue for video where you’ll want to use the spatial audio. However, upgrading the camera’s firmware will allow you to turn the camera off while recording for fifteen minutes at a time. You have the option of immediately recording again, though I’d be wary of the camera overheating.

At lower resolutions, each of the videos from the six lenses will be stitched in real time in-camera. But for 8K, you’ll need to bring the videos into Insta360’s proprietary stitching software, which requires the camera’s serial number and a user registration to download and operate. Though it’s a bit of a hassle to get set up, I found the actual stitching process straightforward while still allowing for a lot of customization. It allows for batch exports, compression to lower resolutions, and offers a low-res preview of the final video.

For the project we’re working on, we wanted viewing the 360 videos to be both immersive and accessible. The solution we found was to load the video onto an Oculus Go, a wireless VR headset. At $200, it seemed like the best compromise to get a full 360 experience. While the 4K and 3D videos have looked great, we haven’t been able to playback 8K video on the device. This remains one of the biggest challenges to working with 8K video at this point, let alone 8K 360 video: there’s simply not many places to actually view it. For now, I’m already impressed with the quality of the Insta360 Pro’s 4K output, even if it’s not the full capability of the camera.

DISH Network SlingStudio DDMC Visit

DISH Network visited the Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this past week to showcase their SlingStudio offering. The best way to describe the SlingStudio, in terms of the environment, is a disruptive multi-camera video production ecosystem focused on entry-level to mid-sized productions, the sweet spot of higher education. Historically, producing and streaming a multi-camera event was expensive (as in $10,000 plus expensive), complicated on both a hardware and software level and usually required 2-3 people to pull off even the most rudimentary event. The SlingStudio re-norms those expectations.

The $999 SlingStudio Hub acts as the heart of the system, allowing a user to hard connect one HDMI input and a range of mobile devices (such as an iPhone) to act as alternative inputs. If you’re interested in adding higher-end cameras (DSLR or consumer/prosumer/pro video cameras) you’ll need a $349 SlingStudio CameraLink per camera to connect to the system. Up to ten devices can be added to the platform for a multi-camera event. And, if you’re interested in going mobile, a $149 battery is available.

The software is incredibly easy to use. Having only seen YouTube demos of the interface, I was able to start switching content within minutes… more like seconds. You can simply drag the content you see to the live window, and boom… it switches. The best part is, the SlingStudio Console App walks a fine line between offering a simple user interface and an interface professionals will appreciate. SlingStudio elegantly hides advanced features away… but they are still a part of the platform. Groups that film multi-camera events, where they edit the footage in post-production, can look at this system as a means of significantly reducing the time necessary to get their content to the public, a key advantage in our SEO world, not to mention being “done” with an event.

With such an expansive ecosystem, it’s impossible to detail every aspect of the platform. That said, DISH Network indicated that they would be happy to offer up a demo unit for further testing. If we find the right event, we’ll make sure to post our findings. It’s an exciting time to be AV and marketing fields.