Gear Review: Lowel Rifa-Lite EX 500w Soft Light

30 08 2011

Stock Photo from Lowel

Make: Lowel

Model: Rifa-Lite EX55

My use: I’ve used these lights on an array of projects and ordered two of these during my tenure at UNC-Greensboro.  I used them primarily for a key light for interviews and green screen shoots.  Chances are, I will buy one for my personal kit in the near future.

Average Price: $488.50

My thoughts: I love this light.  Absolutely love it.  It is compact, easy to carry and works as a wonderful soft key source for interviews and green screen shoots.  In larger productions, it’s useful for bringing up the ambiance or a small fill.  The light is soft, flattering and has a nice warm tinge (which I prefer).  I bought these lights primarily as replacements for what I was using Kino-Flo lamps for work.  To me, Kino-Flos have always burned a little cool (the 3200 lamps) and never match properly with the rest of a tungsten set.  Now, to be honest, I do love Kino-Flos under certain conditions, especially if time is of the essence or for small doses daylight fill, but for interviews and the like, they are hard to control, burn cool and bulky.  With a Kino-Flo you need to mount on C-Stands, plug the header in the ballast and then the ballast into the wall, which is just a pain in the butt in a small office or the like.  The Lowel Rifa 55 comes in a carrying case that contains the head with folded chimera, stand and power cable; furthermore, it’s about two feet long.  Setting these up takes no time at all and the tungsten filament, though it does get hot, provides a pleasant glow.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Rating 500 watt maximum
Socket (Lampholder) 2-Pin
Lens (Condenser) Not Applicable
Reflector (Mirror) Silver interior softbox
Mounting Fits any standard 5/8″ stand or stud
Yoke Not Applicable
Cable 4′ Captive cable, 120V power cable, line switch, 120V Grounded Edison Plug
Focusing Not Applicable
Weight 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg)
Dimensions Collapsed length: 24″ (61 cm)
Face: 21 x 21″ (53 x 53 cm)


Bottom Line
: If I’m traveling light and shooting interiors, then chances are I have one or two of these instruments with me.  They are a versatile, compact soft light that provides a beautiful warm glow, perfect for interior interview setups, lighting talent on green screen shoots and easy-to-tuck away fill/ambient lights on larger sets.  For the price, you can’t beat it.

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The Informer (1935) Review

24 08 2011

Copyright 1935 RKO Radio Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

When you mention the name John Ford, most people are going to think of westerns.  However, this film, which gave the famed director his first of four subsequent Oscars for directing, was not a western at all.  Far from it in fact.

Victor McLaglen plays down on his luck Irishman Gypo Nolan.  A tall, strong fellow, he makes his way as a swindler and all around low-life for the most part.  However, he wants to get out of Ireland and find a better life in the United States with his girlfriend, prostitute Katie Madden (Margot Grahame).  The only problem is that tickets to a better life cost 10 pounds each, an astronomical sum for the broke Gypo.  When delinquent friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) arrives in town to visit his family, Gypo sees an opportunity in the 20 pound reward for his relinquishment to the authorities.  After deliberation, Gypo informs on Frankie, who is killed during the assault on his house.  The Sinn Fein realize that Frankie must have been pointed out by an informer and they quickly begin their pursuit for the culprit.  Meanwhile, Gypo spends the evening partying and drinking with his new found riches.  As the money dwindles on his escapades, Gypo becomes more and more caught up in something much worse than he originally expected.

The film won four Academy Awards; they were for Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing and Best Score.  At first, I thought this movie wasn’t going to be very interesting.  It seemed like a fairly cliched story (at least by today’s standards) and seemed a bit heavy-handed and melodramatic during the first ten or so minutes.  However, as the narrative progressed, I realized how wonderful a film it was.  John Ford’s direction is precise and provides the right amount of suspense for the story.  In return, the script has many surprises and moments of true intrigue.  My favorite part of the film, however, was Victor McLaglen’s amazing turn as Gypo.  He really nails the part and definitely deserved his Oscar statuette for this performance.

Even though this picture is over 75 years old at this point, it still retains all of it’s entertainment value.  I would recommend this movie to classic and modern film lovers alike.





Doctor Who: The Movie (1996) Review

19 08 2011

The Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann. Copyright 1996 BBC

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since starting the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who earlier this year, I have been a super fan boy to the series.  It’s great!  So great, in fact, that I may actually purchase cable through the devil (Time Warner) soon so that I can watch the rest of season six as it airs live.  That aside, after catching up and having this break in the series this summer, I have tried to go back and watch some of the classic series serials.  The classic series spans some 600+ episodes, so I am sure it will be many years to come, if ever, for me to finish it; however, I am on a quest to at least watch serials of all the eleven doctors, so that I can see how each respective actor handled the role.  So far, I have seen serials with first, third, fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh doctors.  Some of the episodes included regenerations, so I have actually briefly seen Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the role as well.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is about a Time Lord (alien) who travels through time and space in a machine that has stuck on the look of a 1960s police box called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).  The original series ran in serials from 1963-1989 and encompassed the first through seventh incarnations (he regenerates when he dies into a new form that retains some basic traits and memories, but wholly new personalities).  Following the end of the original series, there was a US/UK joint effort at rebooting the series in the form of a television movie; this is the movie in question, and it was released in 1996.  Due to many Americans being unfamiliar with the classic British show, it received abysmal reviews in the US and no further episodes were made.  In 2005, the series rebooted with the ninth doctor and continues to this day, currently with the eleventh incarnation portrayed by Matt Smith.

The television movie here up for review begins with the seventh incarnation of the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, transporting the remains of longtime enemy and fellow Time Lord, the Master, back to their home planet of Gallifrey.  The Master’s spirit, though locked and concealed, manages to escape the box causing the TARDIS to spin out of control and “crash land” in San Francisco in 1999.  When the Seventh Doctor exits the TARDIS, he is shot by a gang of hoodlums chasing down another Asian hoodlum, Chang Lee (Lee Jee Tso).  The Doctor is rushed to a local hospital and, while in the ambulance, the Master’s spirit begins the process of taking over a temporary body; this being the body of the EMS employee.  In the hospital, because of his alien anatomy, heart surgeon Dr. Grace Holloway (Daphne Ashbrook) accidentally kills his seventh form on the table.  This sets the regeneration process in motion until the Doctor regenerates into his eighth form, played by one of my favorite (and most underrated) British actors, Paul McGann.  A bit amnesiac from the regeneration, the Doctor has to remember exactly who he is and starts a friendship, and slight romance, with Dr. Holloway who becomes his companion for this movie.  The Doctor has to stop the Master from destroying the fabric of the universe and stop the Master from taking over the Doctor’s body, since the Master’s temporary human body can’t handle the soul of a Time Lord.

Compared to the lower budget effects of the original series, this television movie is extremely high tech.  The camera moves, direction and editing are all much better than many of the older serials, just because of larger budget.  Unfortunately, the story isn’t as good as it could be.  It is oddly almost like a Terminator meets Doctor Who, as the Master in human form (played by Eric Roberts) is very reminiscent of T-1000.  I also hated the acting of Eric Roberts in this role, it was just too over-the-top and campy for me.  Yet, the worst actor in the lot, I think is Lee Jee Tso; he is just awful.  However, I liked Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Holloway and actually really enjoyed Paul McGann as the doctor!  It’s a shame the script wasn’t better and that he didn’t have further chance to solidify himself in the role after this one televised appearance.  Furthermore, I have no idea why they allude to the fact that the Doctor is half human; it does nothing for the story and has never been alluded to before or after.  I just pretended that they didn’t say this about the Eighth Doctor, he is all Time Lord in my mind and that helps me enjoy the film more.

All complaints aside, I did enjoy the movie.  Yes, it could have been better, but it wasn’t a train wreck, especially for any true Doctor Who fan.  There are many nostalgic moments and lots of inside “jokes” for fans, and like I said, I really enjoyed Paul McGann as the Doctor.  Then again, Paul played in my all-time favorite British comedy, Withnail and I.  So, maybe I’m a bit biased.





Gear Review: Panasonic AG-AF100

18 08 2011

Panasonic AF-100 stock photo

Make: Panasonic

Model: AG-AF100

My use: We ordered one of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  Before I left, we used it to film several marketing campaigns.  In addition, I have also had the opportunity to shoot one short film on this model camera.

Average Price: $4,795 (body only)

My thoughts: Having owned an HVX-200 since 2006, the menu system and generalized area of where various buttons are on the AF-100 are familiar.  They are not exact replicas, but if  you know one, it won’t take long to learn your way around the other.  The AF-100 shoots onto SDHC cards in the AVCHD format at up to 1920×1080 resolution and contains a micro 4/3 CMOS sensor.  In relation to size, the micro 4/3 sensor is very similar to the size of a 35mm motion picture film frame.  Because of this, the depth of field is quite comparable.  However, in relation to lenses, the AF-100 is more like a 16mm camera.  A 50mm relative 35mm full frame lens will crop to the approximate equivalence of a 100mm lens field of view on this camera.  The ACVHD compression is definitely more compressed than the DVCPRO HD format of the HVX, so this is one point of contention considering how much newer the release is from its predecessor.  Another thing I was not happy about is that the max Mbs onto your SDHC card is 24Mbs, which is a fairly low bit-rate considering the 5d and 7d will capture footage at around 35Mbs.  However, I have to admit, that the image itself is quite appealing.  There are several HDR modes, but at a normal setting, you do have to watch your highlights very closely.  I personally own a Lumix GH2 (which is a DSLR), also micro 4/3,  and was surprised that the sensor on it holds highlights better than the much more expensive AF-100!  The AF-100, in turn, though has the functions of a camcorder that are sorely missed on DSLRs, such as: multiple XLR mic inputs, multiple IN/OUTs, built-in ND filters and a more ergonomic and friendly design.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Image Device 4/3-type MOS Fixed Pickup
Picture Elements Approx. 12.4MP (Effective) (16:9)
Video Recording System NTSC/PAL
4:2:0 Color Space
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Horizontal Resolution 800 TV Lines
Built-in Filters Neutral Density 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 or OFF (rotary switch)
Gain Selection VIDEO CAM mode: −6dB to 18dB (3dB step)
FILM CAM mode: ISO200 to ISO3200
Color Temperature Control ATW, ATW LOCK, preset 3200K, preset 5600K, preset VAR, Ach, Bch
Sensitivity F8.0 normal (2000lx, 3200K, 89.9% reflex, 1080 59.94i)
Recording Format AVCHD Compliant (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) @21Mbps (max)
Recording Modes PH:
1920 x 1080 / 1280 x 720
21Mbps (average), 24Mbps (max)
LPCM/2ch or Dolby Digital/2chHA:
1920 x 1080
17Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

HE:
1440 x 1080
6Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

Audio Sampling 48kHz (16-bit Encoding)
Maximum Recording Time Using Two 64GB SDXC Cards
PH Mode: approx. 720 mins
HA Mode: approx. 960 mins
HE Mode: approx. 2880 mins
Video Formats 1080:
1080/60i, 1080/50i
Only in PH mode: 1080/30p (over 60i), 1080/25p (over 50i), 1080/24p (native)720 (only in PH mode):
720/60p, 720/50p, 720/24p (native), 720/25p (over 50i), 720/30p (over 60i)
Frame Rates 12p, 15p, 18p, 20p, 21p, 22p, 24p,
25p, 26p, 27p, 28p, 30p, 32p, 34p,
36p, 40p, 44p, 48p, 54p, 60p
Inputs/Outputs HD-SDI: BNC (x1 Output)
HDMI: HDMI Type A (x1 Output)
Composite: RCA (x1 Output)
Line/Mic: XLR +48V (x2 Input)
Audio L/R: RCAx2 (x1 Output)
Headphone: 3.5mm Mini Jack (x1 Output)
USB: Type B Mini v2.0 (x1)
Remote: Super Mini Jack (x1 Input)
Memory Card Slot (2) SD/SDHC/SDXC Slots
LCD Monitor 3.45″ Wide LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Viewfinder Wide 0.45″ LCD (approx. 1,226,000 dots equivalent)
Power Requirements 7.2VDC
Power Consumption 12.4W
Dimensions (WxHxD) 6.4 x 7.7 x 11.4″ (16.3 x 19.5 x 29 cm)
Weight 2.9 lbs (1.3kg)


Bottom Line
: There are some wonderful things about this camera and it can produce a very admirable image, especially for the price range.  However, it is not a DSLR killer and there are definitely attributes that Panasonic could improve on to make this an even better model in years to come.  Also, don’t be too fooled by the price!  To take full advantage of this camera, you definitely need a good lens set and that makes this camera much more expensive package-wise than it originally appears.





Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) Review

17 08 2011

Copyright 2010 Modus Operandi Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

Ever since hearing about this film several years ago, I have been extremely anxious to see it.  Upon noticing it’s appearance on Netflix’s Instant Queue, I immediately added it.  Maddie has been gone this week for orientation for a new job, and I knew that this film would not appeal to her at all.  In fact, she made it pretty clear she had no interest in seeing this one.  So, since I had the house to myself this week (along with a couple of cats and a dog), I was able to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful ode to one of cinema’s finest technical artists.

For those of you who don’t know, Jack Cardiff was a leading British cameraman who began as a child actor in the industry in the late 1910s.  In his teens, he began moving up the ladder in the camera department from camera assistant to camera operator and, ultimately, to a full fledged cinematographer.  His work with the Archers, Pressburger and Powell, is renowned and his contributions to the field of cinematography, specifically color cinematography, are legendary.  My first personal encounter with Cardiff’s work was in my early teens.  One of the VHS movies I had recently purchased contained a preview for a re-release of the 1948 film Black Narcissus.  I was shocked at the imagery I saw during the preview!  The colors were so real, so palpable and brilliant that it made any of the current films that were in theaters at the time look dull in comparison.   I knew I had to see this film, but it would be many years later before I got my Blu-ray copy of Black Narcissus in hand.  Needless to say, the HD presentation of that film is amazing.

Cardiff would win an Oscar for Black Narcissus and go on to receive two more nominations for King Vidor’s War and Peace and Joshua Logan’s Fanny.  A further nomination would be for directing the film Sons and Lovers, making Cardiff one of the few cinematographers to achieve great success in directing.  In 2001, Cardiff was the first and, to my knowledge, only cinematographer to date to receive an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to motion pictures.

This film is an ode to his life and to his work.  It celebrates and recounts his vast history in the film industry, and includes many candid interviews with Cardiff that were filmed before he passed in 2009 at the age of 94.  I thought this was a wonderful documentary and a great tip-of-the-hat to a brilliant cinematographer.  I could understand how some people might not find this film appealing or entertaining, just out of lack of interest in the subject matter.  However, if you are a lover of motion pictures or a working filmmaker, I feel this is a must see.  Cardiff’s ability to manipulate light still brings wonder and delight to any viewer of his work.  If I can be half the artist and cameraman this gentleman was, I will feel like I achieved my goals in the field of cinematography.





The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Review

16 08 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

I had high expectations for this film when it came out earlier this year.  Honestly, it had been one of the few movies I was actually really excited to see once it came out on DVD.  Using a free credit through Vudu on my Playstation 3, Maddie and I rented this and watched it over the weekend.  My expectations were definitely not met, not in the least.

Matt Damon portrays junior congressman David Norris, who looses out on his bid for Senate.  On the night of his lose, he runs into free spirited dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt).  A connection is immediately felt between both Norris and Sellas, but their time is cut short by his losing speech and her being chased by guards for wedding crashing.  However, the next day, they coincidentally run into each other on the bus.  Following this second occurrence, and a slip up one of the “bureau’s” agent’s part, Norris sees some happenings at his office that he wasn’t supposed to see.  He finds out about an organization that works for a God-like entity known as the “Chairman,” who controls almost every facet of freewill on Earth.  They warn him to never let anyone know what he has seen; if he does, he will be reset.  Furthermore, they tell him it is not in the plan for him to be with Sellas and that he will never see her again.  They even go so far as to burn the paper she had given him that had her phone number on it.  As you can imagine, Norris becomes determined to get back with Sellas and there are repercussions with the “bureau” for such meddling and actions of free will.

That was kind of a quick written synopsis, wasn’t it?  Well, you know why?  Because the movie was abysmal.  That is a perfect word for this film and I wish I could alter my rating on this to just reflect that word.  It’s not a terrible film, it just isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.  In fact, we’ve probably even seen it before with Matt Damon!  In addition, the character of Sellas to me was just annoying, childish and two-dimensional.  I didn’t like the written character one bit, nor did I like the performance from Emily Blunt.

This is standard fare filmmaking; not one thing makes this movie unique or interesting.  I know I am being harsh, and probably wrongly so, but this is a movie I was excited to see and was utterly disappointed in the execution.  Don’t waste your time on this one, unless you have a low standard for films and don’t mind cliched science fiction rubbish.  I’m done ranting now.





Gear Review: K5600 Joker Bug 800w HMI

14 08 2011

Copyright K5600 - Joker Bug 800w Kit

Make: K5600

Model: Joker Bug 800w HMI

My use: I ordered two of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  At the time I ordered these, the division didn’t have any HMIs.  We rarely had large lighting setups, so extremely powerful HMI instruments weren’t needed.  However, I did want to build a small HMI arsenal, and wanted what we ordered to have some punch, so I went with the 800w version of the Joker Bug (K5600 also produces 200w and 400w versions).

Average Price: $6,390 per kit

My thoughts: For the type of work we used our HMIs on, the Joker Bug 800’s were a perfect fit.  They pack a sold punch lumen-wise, but are small enough instruments in regards to electrical pull that you can plug them into standard wall outlets.  One of the nicest attributes of these instruments were the compact case in which they came.  The small hardshell case was on rollers, stackable and contained everything you needed for the light: head, ballast, header cable, 4 lenses and barndoors.  Being PARs, these little guys really dished it out, and with the various lenses that include Super Wide, Wide, Medium Flood and Frosted Fresnel, you could easily shape the output for your desired look on set.  With a little diffusion, these instruments were also a wonderful exterior fill, and compact enough to not break your back on location.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Light Fixture
Rating 800 Watts
Socket (Lampholder) G22
Lens (Condenser) 4- included: Super Wide, Wide, Medium Flood, Frosted Fresnel
Mounting 5/8″ Stand mount
Weight 6 lbs (2.7 kg)
Dimensions 13 x 9 x 4.25″ (33 x 23 x 9.1cm)
HMI Ballast
Rating 800W, 110 – 240V AC, 50 / 60Hz
Cable 25′ VEAM 1/4 turn twist
Weight 8 lbs (3.6kg)
Dimensions 10 x 9 x 3.5″ (25.4 x 22.8 x 8.9cm)
Kit Weight 41 lbs (19kg)


Bottom Line
: These are extremely versatile small wattage HMI instruments.  If you are a smaller production company or a freelancer that doesn’t do too many large scale productions, then I highly recommend these units if you are looking to build a small HMI arsenal.








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