April 25, 2014

Bernie B. DeMille?

I have been researching and testing some new equipment to improve my video recordings. To date I have been using my iPhone video capability.  I tried using the Filmic Pro ap for the iPhone. It allows manual control of the iPhone video camera. While that is very cool, there were still a lot of video functions I could not do. Most notable was the inability to zoom optically.  I used a slider to get some cool cinematic effects, but the lack of zoom was a problem.

Recently I purchased a Canon 70D DSLR that has advanced HD video capability and improved auto focus, especially on moving objects. I went with Canon as I  already have a Canon 5D DSLR and I am familiar with their operation. The 5D is a full-frame 12.8megapixel sensor, still image camera. In contrast, the 70D is a cropped-frame 22.2 megapixel sensor camera for stills or video. In video mode it shoots using only a small portionof the sensor.

Because of the cropped-frame sensor it has a 1.6x telephoto effect. (One multiplies the cropped sensor  focal length by this factor to get the equivalent focal length on a full-frame sensor.) That is troubling for model railroad photography where we usually want wide angles and not telephotos. However, for other photography the increased telephoto might be useful. The 70D is available with a 18mm-135mm zoom. At 18mm the lens is equivalent to a 29mm lens for a full frame 35mm sensor. That is sufficient for model railroad shots. I am not sure how the cropped sensor compares to standard video camera optics.

In addition, the cropped-sensor grants increased depth of field due to the effective smaller apertures at any given f stop compared to full-frame sensors. For most videographers this is a drawback as they like shallow depth of field to achieve the so-called bokeh. But in model railroad photography we usually want increased depth of field to simulate the hyper focal range  of prototype rail photography  where everything is in focus.

 My initial tests with the 70D are promising. See the video here. I used the 70D mounted on a Kamerar 23 inch slider,  Manfroto Ball Head and a heavy duty Manfroto tripod. I do not own a fluid damped video head. In addition to the layout lights, I used a 700W 3200K tungsten bulb for extra illumination. Most of the shots were at about f7 and ISO1200. You need a lot of light to shoot at these small f stops with video as your shutter speed should be less than the 1/(2x frame rate).

I used iMovie to make the video. It allows for some limited color and exposure correction. I have a copy of Adobe Premiere Elements, but I have not tried it yet. The current iMovie version is fairly easy to use. There is still a lot to learn, but it will be fun doing so.

If you are a still photographer, like I was, and are getting into video, you may find this book by Richard Harrington very helpful. He takes you through the whole process from equipment selction to editing software. Very much recommended.


  1. Nicely done!
    As someone who, like you, writes regularly for hobby publications, I'm learning that being able to provide video to publishers is increasingly important. Whether it's used online as extra content to enhance the printed publication, as embedded content in digital magazines such as Model Railroad Hobbyist, or destined for a video product such as TrainMasters TV or MR Video Plus, video is moving beyond "nice to offer". So good for you for taking the plunge on some serious hardware. I'm interested in the slider - I like the effect and will have to look into one for my own efforts.
    One item I recently discovered, that I love for video (and photography) is LED lights from Fiilex. They're expensive, but they are color-tunable to match indoor or outdoor conditions, they draw a lot less power than conventional photo lights - and, best of all for our purposes, they generate almost no heat. One can run them for an hour and still touch the unit without fear of burning. This also means that one can leave them on while lining up a shot without fear of melting the subject!
    Keep up the great work - I look forward to watching your progress.
    - Trevor

  2. Trevor, nice tip on the lights. I picked up two Lowell Omni Porta Lights a few years back with light stands, diffusers and a carrying case for $60! They take up to 700W FD bulbs. But one is starting to fail as the high current draw in eroding the contacts where the bulbs touch. So I will probably look for some new lights.
    Because of the way my valance is arranged, I have several spots where my foreground is backlit. That isn't bad for operation, but does hurt photography. Extra light is needed for that as well as increased f stop during filming/shooting.

  3. I should've added that another reason I like the Fiilex lights is that they're cool enough that they won't set your valence on fire! :-)
    I will warn you, they're expensive - but given that the LED matrix is unlikely to burn out, they'll last a lifetime. I know a number of modelers would not make this kind of investment, but you've always struck me as the kind who judges a product based on "value" not "price".
    - Trevor

  4. Fire hazard from hot lights is no joke. I was shooting stills of a module at a friends house. One of my hot lights exploded. Hot glass fragments scattered in various directions in spite of the safety cage. Some landed on his layout and melted through his foam scenery. Then I looked down on the floor and a hot fragment landed on my sweatshirt and set in on fire. I had to stomp it with my foot to prevent it from spreading. Yikes!

    I like the idea of tunable color temperature, though setting the white balance on this D70 is quite easy.

    Yes, I am a gear junkie. I like using professional gear as it works like it should and lasts.

  5. Excellent write-up and explanation of your research & findings. After all this layout work & the MR Goes to War book, I hope you'll seriously look at writing a book on Model Railroad Photography & Videography - I believe it would be well sought after (and is sorely needed). You've had many awards or cover shots used, so you've got to know a hundred things people would like to know. As a recent entrant to DSLR Photography (Marty's old Canon EOS Digital Rebel and some new Canon lenses), I am trying to learn all I can and get 'ahead of the curve', so I can see results sooner. Plenty of reading material out there, such as 'DSLR for Dummies', covering Portraiture and Landscape photography, but almost nil on Model Railroading AND it seems Editors do want better pixes from their submitters, but really don't go into how to get them. Just my 2 cents.

    And, if you're interested in doing a clinic for MARPM '15 on it, please let Bob & me know! Thanks again!