Tuesday, December 23, 2014

$4 Zoom H1 Shockmount Arrives!

I had a question a few weeks back about finding an inexpensive Zoom H1 Handy Recorder shockmount. I've always referred people to DSLR Film Noob's version, be he has been sold out for awhile, which sent me poking around eBay. I found one for $4, ordered it, and it arrived just in time for Christmas!

This shockmount isn't made for the H1, but it appears to be large enough (according to the specs) to hold it and give access to the record button. Before I could pull it out of the packaging, I noticed the fine print located at the bottom of the card. True to form, it provided for some very humorous reading. It states:

Capacitor microphone, recording the microphone, studios, computer K song first professional microphone shockproof clip. We always do the most professional computer peripheral microphone K song accessories. For your singing more add presence.

Sounds good! Watch for a video review coming soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

CamStudio: Free Screen Recorder Software

Awhile ago when I wanted to do some instructional videos about Sony Vegas Pro, I went looking for a program that would allow me to record everything happening on my computer screen. Back then there was the very expensive Camtasia and the free CamStudio. Guess which one I picked?

The nicest thing about CamStudio is that it's free and fairly functional. I does let you record the screen (with periodic glitches) and gives you an .AVI file that will drop into any editing program provide you use the default codec. It does what supposed to do and I have used it for videos featuring Vegas Pro, as well as for shots of b-roll web surfing to help illustrate points in my video (like items on eBay).

CamStudio has its own website, but can also be found on Sourceforge, where you can all versions of the program and a support forum to help with questions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Archive Problem & Frugal NAS

Last week I posted a video about archiving footage to dual layer Blu-rays discs. I thought it was a good idea, but afterward received a flurry of comments over on YouTube about how it might not be the best idea due to the delicate nature of optical media in general. I also received some great feedback via email, including a link to Will Fastie's excellent blog post, "The Archive Problem".

In Will's email he brought up the point that despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be any obvious choice since all electronic media has a definite expiration date, it's good to promote this discussion. If we create any amount of video work and want to keep it, we need to store it somehow. Since there is no one best storage solution, the "answer" seems to be to spread your files over several media forms and store them in different places. When the expiration date of these forms approaches, you must then re-copy them to new media forms. What a pain!

The following is some new information (to me, anyway) that has been brought to my attention since my Blu-ray video. While offering a decent amount of storage to the average user (50GB), the discs are fragile and can lose data in 1-5 years depending on the quality of the disc. I really have no idea how long they will last. For me, they also took an hour to burn. If you have a lot of video to back up (and I do), this process can take too long and tie up computing cycles better used elsewhere. The discs are cheap, but may not be worth the time or peace of mind I lose creating them.

Memory cards, flash drives, and Solid State Drives (SSDs) appear to have the longest life, but cost the most. Cards and flash drives have a built in charge that could last up to ten years if you write to them once and store them away. SSDs are purported to last longer. Right now, a 256GB flash drive costs $70 and an SSD drive of the same size costs about $100. If you need massive amounts of backup space, this is cost prohibitive, especially if you are on a budget.

That returns us to our old friend/enemy, the hard drive. These can you get large amounts of storage space for very little money. A 1TB bare or USB drive will only cost you $60 and that price will keep dropping. Hard drives will fail, however, and it's never a question of if but when. If you use them for archiving, you can't just leave them in a drawer as they must be spun every so often (at least monthly) to maintain data heath.

The best hard drive solution seems to be the NAS or Network Attached Storage. Essentially a little RAID 1 array, these boxes are a mini computer that holds two or more drives that create redundant backup. If you have NAS for 2TB, you have two 2TB drives in the case. If one fails, you replace it and the other rebuilds the archive. Very neat. These are not very expensive and the only real drawback is that both drives are right next to each other. In case of a fire or theft, you're screwed.

I really like the NAS idea. It plugs into your network and your can archive wirelessly and get an instant backup on the second drive. Still, you have to drop at least $300 to get up and running, though getting up and running is stupid easy.

There is a way to craft a "Frugal NAS", which I'd like to discuss. In my little apartment we have a 32" widescreen TV plugged into a cheap desktop computer. We watch all our digital content (Netflix, YouTube, DVDs, Pandora) through this setup, which never gets powered down--just like a server.

As a result, I can do what the NAS box does, since I already have a way to attach hard drives. I can hook up two external USB drives, using one as the archive drive and the other as the archive backup. This allows me to copy files to the archive (wirelessly if I wish) and have an automated backup to the second drive using a free program like Karen's Replicator. If one drive fails, I replace it and KR will restore the data from the good drive.

I really like this idea and feel that it is the most affordable and secure solution. My only question now is when I fill these up do I store them and create a new archive or buy even larger drives and add onto them? And do I want to separate the drives across the network to avoid the fire/theft issue?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Archive Your Video on Blu-Ray Discs

Over the last few years since I've been posting videos, I've accumulated quite a bit of video. In the past, when I would fill up my computer's hard drive, I would offload to an external drive. Now I have several hard drives and live in fear of the day when one or more of them will fail, taking my videos with it. I needed a safer, more permanent solution to archive my stuff.

What I settled on is nothing new, but in the wake of advancing technology has become more affordable to the filmmaker strapped by a dearth of funds. I'm referring to writable dual layer Blu-ray discs, that allow for 50GB worth of data storage per disc. They are easily stored, hold a decent amount of footage, and aren't as susceptible to data loss like a hard drive is.

The best news may be the price. I picked up a simple, no-frills burner on eBay for $60. It's a drawer-loading laptop drive inside a USB enclosure. You simply plug it in, your OS finds the driver and your ready to burn. The free sofware ImgBurn will take care of all your burning needs.

Just be careful when shopping for a Blu-ray writer. A lot of them are labeled as "Blu-ray writer/burners", but are actually only Blu-ray readers than burn standard DVDs. Always read the fine print before ordering. A good red flag for this is price. If it is less than $50, it probably doesn't burn Blu-rays (or maybe doesn't burn dual layer discs).

Tangible storage is also cheap and easy.  Any standard CD/DVD case will hold your archive and you can store or transport your burner in a sleeve or hard case made for 7" tablet computers. Both these options are very cheap and very easy to find.

I realize this Blu-ray archive idea may not be so feasible with the impending 4k revolution on the horizon. Those large file sizes will need to be addressed in some other, probably yet undiscovered, way. Right now, if you are like me and still work in an HD environment, this isn't such a bad idea.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Frugal Filmmaker on Film Thrive Podcast!

Just in case you haven't tired of listening to me talk, I was recently interviewed by Arel Avellino on his Film Thrive Podcast. He contacted me via Skype and I had a pleasant forty-five minute conversation with him about some core values of Frugal Filmmaking that I've been preaching for a few years now.

If you have the time and are interested about some of the origins concerning this blog and the YouTube videos that go with it, you may want to give this a listen. I'm not sure how well I come across, but always enjoy blabbing on and on about what can be done on a tiny budget.

Be sure to check out the other podcasts on Film Thrive. Arel has interviewed some interesting folks and they each have something of value to contribute to the filmmaking conversation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Making of "Collection Day" - Full Cut!

When I was making Collection Day, Tanner Smith was documenting the whole process and creating (per my request) episodes around all ten of our shooting days. Those have been previously "collected" (yes, I did go there) in this playlist, but if you'd like to see the non-episodic version, Tanner has created such a thing and posted it on his YouTube channel.

Even if you have no interest in the film, you might want to check it out anyway. There's always something to learn about filmmaking watching someone else do it. And for those of you concerned about my dry presentation on my instructional videos, watch this video. I'm a little less dry.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Frugal Holiday Gift Guide 2014

The holidays are rapidly approaching, so I thought I'd do something kind of fun by sharing a top five list of frugal holiday gifts from things that I've had some experience with over this past year. These are all things that I find extremely valuable in getting your film shot.

If you don't want to watch the video for all gory details and witty banter (what?), here is the list complete with links on where to buy these items and accompanying videos that explain them better.

5) Sony NP-F970 Clone Battery (power your camera with this battery)
4) Leatherman Wingman (highly recommended sheath)
3) Sony a5000 mirrorless camera (great deal on this entry-level cam)
2) Chisso 7" External Monitor (in gray and silver)
1) Dual Angled Flash Brackets (use them to construct The Frugal Camera Cage)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

R&D: The Itsy Bitsy (Camera) Slider

Here's a little project I've been working on that I wished had worked better. Okay, it's really not working at all, but I like the idea and might have to pursue it from a different direction. I thought of the idea when I saw a link to a tiny version of the RatRig and thought about making a cheap, small camera slider out of off-the-shelf parts. That's when I came across the "two-way macro rail slider" on eBay.

Macro sliders are supposed to be used to incrementally move your camera back and forth along a rail until you have your super-closeup picture in focus. I've used them in the past on my DIY Steadicam, The Frugal Floater. It made for a great camera stage where the incremental moves could be used to achieve balance. I thought this longer version could also be put to good use for something it was not made for.

 The first version of the two way slider was too cheap to be of any use. The gears that drove the slider mechanism did not play well together and there was actually some grinding when used. This led me to spending two more dollars on the "Fotomate" branded slider that looked the same as my short version used on The Frugal Floater. Cosmetically, the only difference is the Fotomate label and the rubber pad on the top that resembles a tank tread. The inferior model has no name and no tank tread rubber.

Anyway, my first attempt to use this gizmo as a camera slider was to remove one of the cold shoe mounts from one end, mount the camera and turn the knob manually to move the camera platform. To make the cranking easier (and more practical), I drilled out a window crank with a 1/2" drill bit. This opened up the 3/8" hole in the crank making it fit nicely on the slider knob (it even includes it's own set screw!).

Problem was, the sliding motion wasn't very smooth. I even tried counter-balancing the platform by adding weights to the opposite end, but it was still too bumpy. This led me to flip the platform upside down, mounting it to my tripod. The camera was mounted to the sliding mechanism (pictured) and this would slide along the now-stationary platform. This solved the weight issue, but now it was too light. And still bumpy.

This is a work and progress, but I think the slider rail idea isn't going to work. The gears are just not made for smooth motion. I still want to make the "Itsy Bitsty Slider". I'll just have to try a different method.


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