Friday, April 30, 2010

Best $1300 laptop for video editing Canon 7D's MOV files?

Canon video files slow or skipping? Could be your computer!

I'm sure by now many of our readers have noticed that their Canon .MOV video files are playing really slow or it skips on playback. The general rule of thumb is: If it plays well on your camera but not on your computer, then your computer either is too slow and needs an upgrade or you are lacking resources due to other programs in the background.

Personal experience

My own personal experience has been largely the same. Even on relatively powerful laptops like my dual core AMD Turion 64 X2 1.9HGz or Intel's Duo Core 2 CPU, the .MOV video files were still skipping. My personal conclusion? I needed an affordable new laptop that could handle h.264 files easily.

The search for an affordable answer...

After an exhaustive search in December 2009, I found out about Intel's new Core i7 (quad-core) processors. These new processors had Turbo Boost, hyper-threading, and other features that would enable faster video editing and playback. Unfortunately, nobody had any i7 laptops in stock in 2009 and nobody would be able to give me a delivery date until mid-January 2010.

Arrived! Dell Studio 15 with Intel Core i7-720QM inside

My new Dell Studio 15 laptop arrived in March and boy, what a difference. Playbacks on these compressed Canon video files improved significantly, with no skips! I didn't have to use Cineform Neoscene to uncompress the h.264 file to make it play easier. I specifically waited over two months for this laptop and I was not disappointed with the results. The total cost? ~$1,230 shipped.

Dell's Core i7 is one fast beast. With Turbo mode it automatically overclocks a single core up to 2.8Ghz if it sees the other CPU cores are not in use. I don't have to touch it. The hyperthreading also helps in video encoding. Instead of processing video bits one at a time, it will divvy up the tasks so it will be processed simultaneously.


Intel Core i7 laptops are starting to hit the shelves and you can find some great deals online. While I would recommend the Dell Studio 15 laptop, you can get the same performance coming from Asus, HP, and other brands. Asus has an attractive offering because their new Core i7 laptops are about $100 cheaper.

I have provided some easy to use links below:

ASUS N61Jq-A1 16" Notebook Computer

  1. 1.6GHz Intel i7-720QM Quad-Core
  2. 4GB (2x2GB) RAM
  3. 500GB 7200rpm Hard Drive
  4. SuperMulti DVD Burner
  5. ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730 Graphics
  6. 16" Widescreen Display
  7. Integrated Camera and Microphone
  8. Bluetooth, 802.11b/g/n Wi-FiUSB 3.0
  9. Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), 6.4 lb

Questions or thoughts? Join us on the forums.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What is a gimbal head? Why it might help your video DSLR!

Have you ever seen the way telescopes are mounted?  They pan fast and don't have any vibrations? They have what looks like a J or Y looking yoke on their tripods? These types of supports are available for your DSLR lenses as well. It is a favorite among wildlife photographers but it can also be helpful for video setups -- typically not possible for high definition video cameras in the past due to the bulk of their size, video DSLRs can actually take advantage of this device!

Gimbal heads essentially mount long telephoto lenses with this one goal: create a weightless environment for your shooting needs.  You can pan fast with as little vibrations as possible.  Without gimbal heads to balance your camera and the lens in their natural center of gravity, you have potential issues like your equipment tipping over or your lens/camera slowly goes towards the center of gravity.  This is the downside of ballhead designs that use friction to fight against gravity.  Instead of using gravity as a tool, it tries to fight against it.

Unlike ballheads, gimbal heads CANNOT flop over. You can move a 6 lbs lens with one flick of a finger. Unfortunately, most gimbal heads are very very expensive.  But there is a quality alternative from Manfrotto that I recommend. Most quality gimbal heads run from $300-$600, but Manfrotto's 393 Heavy Duty Gimbal Type Telephoto Lens Support is only $180. For folks that want sturdy support, this is the best value for the buck.

Thanks, -Don Sausa

Questions or thoughts? Join us on the forums.

Monday, April 26, 2010 vs eBay for used equipment -- case study review

I was in need of used camera equipment today (flash unit).  My Canon flash unit died and I sent it in for service.  While I have two Sigmas and an old Canon flash unit, none of them works natively with 7D's wireless capabilities.  My thoughts?  Buy another Canon flash unit, but a used one like the powerful 550EX.

I wanted to write about my used camera equipment buying experience.  I hope it actually helps someone when they search for used lenses, flash units, camera bodies, and other photography equipment.  While B&H, Adorama, and others have decent used equipment, the primary players in the used market seem to be eBay and KEH.  Who is KEH?  What is KEH?  Read on...

About eBay
We all know who eBay is. It's a platform, a service, and the great deals you get is solely dependent on the individual you are dealing with; hence, your experience varies.

About KEH
So I kept hearing about the goodness of and their quality service on the photography message boards, specifically on used photography hardware.  They sell the merchandise themselves.  As I understand it, they buy the used equipment, own it, and sell it.

As for the meaning of KEH, I have no clue.  I sent an email to their support team to ask.

I went ahead and started comparing the 550EX flash units on eBay vs.

eBay: $249 + $16 shipping, no warranties, no returns.  There was one in the UK being bid on at $200, but with U.S. shipping plus potential customs, I have no clue what the final number would be.

KEH: I found one used for $189 fixed price, no auctions + $9 shipping ($200) that carries KEH's 14 day no-hassle return policy and 60 day warranty.

The choice was a no brainer.  KEH's price and warranty won.  Now that I've ordered, let's see if the unit is functioning and see if it works!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Canon vs. Nikon: Why Hollywood's Tim Burton chose Canon

“ We originally selected the Nikon D2H because of the wireless ftp, the chip size, and the fact that we owned $90,000 of Nikon glass [lenses],” notes Watts. However, random noise was visible as pixilation in dark areas when the shots were played back as a movie. This pixilation effect was only visible in stop-motion photography, an application the Nikon hadn’t been designed for.

The Canon EOS-1D Mark II, which uses a CMOS sensor and DIGIC II processor chip, was one of the most expensive still cameras tested, but the image quality was amazing, according to Watts. A way had to be found to mount Nikon lenses on the Canon EOS body. With the NEOS adapter, focus and aperture must be set manually, but that’s fine for stop-motion photography.

More of the article here:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sigma 50-500mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM vs. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS (reviews so far)

Minimum Aperturef/22
Minimum Focusing Distance1.6ft-5.9ft
Lens Construction22 Elements in 16 Groups
Maximum Magnification1:3.1
Angle of View46.8°- 5°
Filter Size95mm (stepdown available)
No. of Diaphragm Blades9 pcs
Lens HoodPetal-type
SRP$1600 (USD)
Diameter 104.4mm x Length 219mm
Available FittingsCanon AF, if nothing else, Sigma AF, Nikon AF, Pentax AF, Sony AF are secondary alternatives

The Sigma 50-500mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM is an ultra telephoto lens offering a 10x zoom ratio. Incorporating Sigma’s original Optical Stabiliser function, the Sigma 50-500mm f5-6.3 offers the use of shutter speeds approximately 4 stops slower than would otherwise be possible. Four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements provide excellent correction of colour aberration. The addition of the optional 1.4x EX DG or 2x EX DG APO Tele Converters produce a 70-700mm F6.3-8 or a 100-1000mm F9-12.6 MF zoom lens respectively.

On a crop camera like the Canon EOS 7D with a Sigma 2x, the maximum focal length of this lens is 1600mm. INSANE!


Does it take Canon TCs? No. Roger Cicala at was kind enough to confirm with Don Sausa that it does not take Canon TCs.

Sample shots and reviews

  1. Roger and the team took the first volley here:
  2. The test chart on a 5D MkII is available here:
  3. Jeffrey Friedl took some great shots with the Nikon mount. No doubt it'll look better with Canon cameras, but hey no one's perfect. (LOL)
  4. Another Nikon user took these great shots.  Yes, good shots are not impossible for Nikons.  We suspect he had Canon hands.
    With the sample shots so far + the OS and the extra +100mm, the Bigma II is on a rock solid start. It's a serious contender to the old Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS.

    Summary and Conclusion

    1. Sigma is competing against the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS. Both are priced in most shops at or around $1600.
    2. Is it sharp? Roger's test shot at 1/250 @ 500mm (5d MkII) shows the quality is impressive despite slower shutter speeds. I wonder what the sharpness would be like at 1/500!
    3. Sigma's TC's work but not Canon's TC's. (TC = teleconverter to multiply focal length)
    4. Video quality? Excellent. Close-ups, here we come!

    Flickr group!
    Got shots you want to share? If you have sample pictures and have a Flickr account, please join this group and post them:

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    House, a popular TV series' finale, shot on Canon DSLR!

    Just to highlight the respect of the film making industry of the new video DSLRs like Canon 7D and Canon 5D II, Fox's popular TV show, House will have their season finale filmed on a $2500 Canon 5D MkII camera.  Why would a studio independently (without Canon's endorsement) actually use a cheaper camera?  Because the shots were "richer".  Amazing!

    The interview can be found here:

    Naysayers, keep digging your holes.

    New Canon 7D firmware is out v1.2.1

    The firmware link is available here:

    Firmware Version 1.2.1 incorporates the following improvements and fixes.

    • Extends the timing at which the high temperature warning indicator is displayed and the timing of automatic shut down of the camera due to a rise in internal temperature during Live View or EOS Movie functions.
    • Optimizes program shift when the ISO setting of the camera is set to AUTO.
    • Corrects a misspelling in the French-language menu.
    • Corrects a phenomenon in which vertical magenta-colored banding appears in still images taken in movie-shooting mode. (This only occurs when in Manual exposure mode and when the ISO speed is set to "H". Note that this phenomenon only affects units with Firmware Version 1.2.0)

    Firmware Version 1.2.1 is for cameras with firmware up to version 1.2.0. If the camera's firmware is already version 1.2.1, it is not necessary to update the firmware.  Note that cameras with firmware Version 1.2.1, 1.2.0 cannot be downgraded to a previous firmware version (such as Version 1.1.0).

    Sunday, April 4, 2010

    How to Clean Your DSLR Camera Sensor Like a Pro

    The experts at created an awesome video on how to clean your sensor. While we always recommend cleaning to be done at Canon's service centers as a default, sometimes you don't have a choice when you're in the middle of production (video shoot) or a photo shoot! This well documented sensor cleaning method is working for LensRentals, by far the leading rental experts on camera and lenses.

    So now your interested on where to buy this stuff? We've made it easier for you. You can buy the equipment through these images:

    1. Dust-Aid Silicone Dust Stamp
    2. Sensor Brush
    3. Acoustic Butterfly Sensor Brush
    4. Sensor Loupe

    Saturday, April 3, 2010

    Camera7D review of T2i / Canon 550D coming soon!

    So we finally are getting a shipment of the new Canon 550D (T2i in NAFTA market). We got tons of back logs in terms of reviews and more videos to spit out, keep watching Don Sausa's YouTube channel here for new T2i vids in the next couple of weeks:

    Need to see RAW thumbnails in Windows Explorer? Solution: Fast Picture Viewer Codecs

    Link: Free Codec Pack

    The Codec Pack, now at version 2.0, currently contains 22 different image decoders, or codecs, each in 32-bit and 64-bit variant, supporting 37 image file extensions such as DNG, CR2, NEF, PEF, ORF and many more, including specialists formats such as OpenEXR, TGA, PNM, DDS and JPEG2000, with additional format support likely to come in the future.

    For owners of digital cameras wanting to venture into "raw shooting" to get the most of their gear, our Codec Pack is a "must have" as it will make raw file handling in Explorer as simple and easy as it is with the usual JPEG format.

    Camera 7D recommendation
    The best codec in the market by far. The fact that they freely let you download it is a testament to their dedication to the community! With 64-bit support plus support of the newest RAW formats makes this tool invaluable.

    Canon Extender EF 2x II Compatibility Chart (and 1.4x)

    I have been looking for a quick compatibility chart online for the Canon EF 2x and 1.4x extenders. Thankfully B&H has been kind enough to translate the chart into an easy to read table found below. There's two sets of links below that will get you to the 2x and 1.4x charts.

    Canon 1.4x Extender II Compatibility Chart

    Canon 2x Extender II Compatibility Chart