Friday, July 25, 2014

Sony Battery Cradle Switch Hack

Last week, my video was about how to use cheap, Sony-compatible external battery cradles to power your camera. At the end of that video I mentioned how I discovered that power was leeching from the batteries, even when the camera was off. I hacked a switch onto the cradle to disrupt the flow of power, so you could leave the batteries in place and not have to pull out the power cords every time.

Today's video is a detailed explanation about how to do this. It's an easy project, if you know how to solder things. If you don't, you're probably going to be lost. I'm no electronic engineer, but I understand the basics enough to pull off simple projects like this one. A basic search of the web should make you more familiar with the tools (listed below) and techniques I am using.

As always, since you are dealing with electricity and a hot iron, please be careful. Those irons are designed to melt solder and can burn you as well!


small Philips head screwdriver
key card/credit card/debit card/gift card
wire cutters
wire strippers
Soldering Iron
Rosin Core Solder
scrap of wire
electrical tape
flat head screwdriver
#8 combination wrench

TRIVIA: The actual length of the "how-to" section of the video was thirty-eight minutes. Cut down, it is eight minutes long.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

External Camera Battery

Awhile back I watched Chung Dha's video about adapting Sony F-series batteries to his Canon 60D, which gave it over six hours of running time. I thought this idea was great and commented on the video that I'd like to try out on my Sony NEX 5n. I had some of the basic parts and it used the same Sony battery cradle that I ended up using to power my $56 HD monitor.

At the time I had no real need to hook up an external battery, as the internal batteries on my 5n lasted a couple of hours and were easy to change. When the Frugal Cage came along and I began to add more and more accessories (including a follow focus), my camera became buried within the rig making changing batteries more of a pain. It was then I decided to see if I could make Chung's idea work on my camera.

The good news is that it worked just about exactly as it did for the Canon. I had an aftermarket AC adapter with detachable dummy battery which connected nicely to the battery cradle. The only downside was that when I left batteries on the cradle the camera would leech power, even when turned off. This wasn't a big deal if I remembered to remove the batteries, but when I didn't I lost juice that could have been used on my shoot.

I solved the problem by hacking the cradle with an on/off switch. This switch disrupted the flow of power to the camera and also turned off the LED so I knew what position it was in. I'll go into detail about how I installed this switch in next week's episode. For now, full details about connecting the battery can be found in the video.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Gap Between Frugal and Chinese Cage Widens

It's funny how sometimes certain events seem to coincide with things you have done which may or may not have influenced those events. If you've been watching my videos, you know I've been in the process of pimping out my Frugal Cage Rig. I've setup the basic rig and added a lens shade, a cheap HD monitor and inexpensive follow focus. This week I'll be explaining how I set up external camera power and the last "Pimp Your Rig" episode will cover a hack I build for those external power battery cradles.

When I first posted about the Frugal Cage, I mentioned the cheap retail version from China, a rod-based rig with a top handle and lots of mounting points for $48. That was a pretty good deal and I could almost see picking that up vs. making the Frugal Cage--almost. Now, the price of those Chinese rigs has jumped $24, with the cheapest one going for $73 on eBay. Not a bad deal, but nowhere near what is was before. The Frugal Cage makes a lot more sense if you want to save $30-40 (depending on how you equip it).

I have seen this happen in the past, just not so quickly. Back when I built the Frugal Clamp, the DJ clamps that the system was based on were about $2.50. When people seemed to be snapping them up (I'm just speculating here) to make Frugal Clamps, eventually the price doubled to $5. Now a similar thing seems to be happening to those once really cheap Chinese cages. When demand goes up, so do prices.

Of course, the irony here is that Frugal Cage is made from cheap Chinese flash brackets. They are the new erector set of camera rigs. They have gone up in price a tiny bit since I've been using them, but nothing to make me look for an alternative. Which is good, because there isn't any.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: $37 Follow Focus

I'm always poking around eBay and Amazon for good deals and sometimes I actually come up with one. Recently I was looking at gear-based follow focus units, the types with the large knob and gearbox setup. That's when I found the Newwer CN-90F on eBay for $37. This price might not seem low, but when everything else starts at $50, it really is.

These gear units are always rod-based, which means they have two clamps made to lock onto rigs using a two rod system. I don't use a rod rig, but The Frugal Cage, which uses flash brackets instead of rods. Fortunately the rod clamps are easily removed and I was able to attach it to my rig with some included parts (a nut and bolt) and a couple of not-included parts (a rubber washer and a 60-70mm follow focus gear ring). If you built the Frugal Follow Focus you have one of these not-included parts already.

As expected for something on the bottom end of the price scale, the unit works but has some obvious drawbacks. Whether or not the cheap price makes up for these drawbacks is for you to decide. Watch the above video to find out for yourself!

UPDATE: I managed to fix most of the slop problem. Click here to see how I did it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Maintaining Online Momentum

I recently received the following email from reader/viewer Brian McCarthy, which touches on some important information that I'd like to comment on. This email was in response to my "Wake Up YouTube Subscribers!" from this past week. It also indirectly refers to many things mentioned in the past post "The YouTube Snowball". Here's an excerpt:

Just a comment on your concerns of views vs. subscribers. I think that you have broken one of your golden rules about building your YouTube channel. You have said that it is very important to have a regular publish date for new post. I have to agree with you on that because I found myself going to your channel and not finding a new posting becoming less and less interested in following up on the next expected day. Besides wondering if you had decided to abandon the channel, it was disappointing not seeing you with another input. After a few times of not seeing a new posting my interest went downhill in quick order and I found myself checking your channel only when the thought occurred to me as compared to checking in on a regular schedule.

Now I must say that I was fully aware of the situation and how important getting your film completed is and was. I understood that a person can’t be two places at once and found myself very forgiving at not finding a new post when I checked in on your channel, forgiving but disappointed at the same time as I had arrived at the point where the information and the contact with a community of like-minded filmmakers through you had become so important and entertaining for me. I realize people could say to me "get a life" and they might be right, but like so many other subscribers of your channel I have come to the point where I can say that I miss your timely post and hope and look forward to you returning to the channel with as much enthusiasm as you can muster.

I wanted to share some of Brian's words because I think they touch on a single, very important aspect of YouTube success. Not only do you have to work hard over a long period of time, but you must stick to a regular release schedule. Brian's comments about being "forgiving but disappointed" probably describes how every fan feels about their favorite channels that don't deliver on simple promises of shows. Your fan base wants to support you. They want to consume whatever you have to offer (though they may not always like it) and want to support you with at least their time which is a very valuable commodity in this internet world.

As Brian points out, he knew of my situation and knew how busy I was, but it didn't matter. He wanted his regularly scheduled content. If any viewer finds your work worthy of them, you owe it to them to deliver. I am the same way toward channels that I support.

I am finally returning to a regular schedule (though it's now one show per week instead of two) and I can already see an upturn in viewership. Of course you must maintain the level of quality you've set for yourself. Of course you must interact with your audience. Of course you must market and promote over social media. Just make sure you continue to build it and your audience will continue to come. The Brians out there are proof of this.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wake Up YouTube Subscribers!

Something I've been wondering about lately is the relationship between the number of YouTube subscribers to the number of views for every video released. I realize that views happen based on many factors (consistency, interaction, interest, etc.), but I am ultimately confused by this disparity. How can a channel have a decent number of subscribers and a much lower view count? Where are those subscribers every time I release a video?

I've noticed that other channels have similar view counts with far fewer subscribers. Lately I've been getting around 5,000 views despite 75,000 subscribers, which is 6% of views/subs. Lame. Other channels seem to easily match or exceed views per video despite their lower subscriber total.

Part of the reason the channel's taken a hit (I believe) is that I stopped posting regular videos late last year when I was heavily involved in the production of my thesis project. My content became inconsistent and I moved away from DIY material and instead posted videos related to my film production. This was all I could really do under the circumstances, but I know my channel and blog lost momentum and my numbers dropped as a result.

The subscribers are still there. I just need to let them know that so am I. One of the great features YouTube offers is the option for subscribers to select email alerts for new uploads. This feature is not the default, however, and must be selected manually. Simple, right? Just send a mass email to all of your subs and ask them to turn on email alerts and your views should go way up. Well, YouTube doesn't let you mass email your subs (I guess that is considered spamming). Now what? How do I "wake up" these untapped and potentially interested viewers?

One idea I am trying out is to use the "branding" feature found in InVideo programming. This is found under Creator Studio/Channel/InVideo Programming and offers you the option to "Add a branding intro" which is meant to add a short intro to some or all of your videos. When you click on this you are allowed to select only those videos you have uploaded that are three seconds or less.

It's not much time for anything, but it is something and you can effortlessly add this intro to every video in your upload library. I then created a brief message with screen capture information on how to turn on the email alert. It has been the only way I know of to contact anyone watching your videos.

Sadly, despite all of YouTube's wonderful analytics, there is no way to tell how many of your subscribers have email alerts turned on. All I have to go on is if my number of views increase the next time I release a video. It's not very good way to measure if my efforts are paying off or not. We'll have to see what happens in the long run. Right now, I'm relying on a three-second wake up call.


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