Friday, February 27, 2015

Zoom H1 Automatic Safety Track Adapter

I've always liked the idea of the recording a safety track when recording dialogue. This is the practice of sending your mono mic to one stereo channel, and a slightly lower version of the same mic to another. If your actors yell or otherwise clip the main channel, the safety channel is perfectly useable and saves the audio.

While all (that I know of) XLR recorders have this feature built-in, 1/8" recorders such as the Zoom H1 don't even allow you to individually control both stereo channels, only both at the same time. Even if you can get your mono mic into both channels (using a mono-to-stereo adapter), you can't bring one of them lower than the other. In the past I've worked around this, but it requires a mixer of some kind. What I wanted was an adapter that would automatically drop that second channel about -12db for safety.

I'm an electronics amateur at best and was unsure how to do this, so I poked around on YouTube and came across this video about a DIY attenuator that did just what I was looking for. It sent me in the direction of creating my own cable, even if my wiring ended up a bit different.

I can see a lot of applications for this, a big one being body mics. Putting a mic on a groom is a common practice, but there is no way to monitor his sound once you set him free to get married. The Safety Track Adapter could help set your mind at ease knowing that your chances of recoverable sound are good, even when he gets loud.

The best things about this project is that it's very affordable, looks professional, and only requires beginning soldering skills. This adapter can easily built in an hour if you know your way around a soldering iron. Please let me know how yours turns out and if it helps.

1' male to male stereo audio cable
1/8" (3.5mm) female adapter plug
2 resistors (depends on mic impedance and voltage)
electrical tape

soldering iron
rosin core solder
wire cutters/strippers
"helping hands" device (optional, but you'll want it)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Get the FF Short Film Idea Deck for $5!

 I just stumbled across this, but thought that anyone interested in getting their own Idea Deck would appreciate it. If you go to the Printer's Studio home page (the site that prints and mails the cards) and scroll down to the bottom, there is an invite to submit your email address for a newsletter subscription.

The reward for this action is to get a code good for $10 off your next purchase. This is a great way to get your deck for the very low price of $5. If you really don't want their newsletter, I'm sure you can unsubscribe (or you can use or create an email you don't care about). However you play this, I can't see it as any kind of a loss considering the great price.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Choosing Better Battery Plates

In case you didn't know, I really like Sony NP-F Series batteries. These were first developed for the original Sony camcorder (VX1000) that ushered in the digital revolution with the first firewire port. These batteries have hung around long after the obsolescence of those cameras and are a very common way to power all kinds of stuff using readily available battery plates. I use these batteries to externally power my camera and 7" monitor, but they power all kinds of stuff.

Emm over at Cheesycam recently had an cool post about using the removable plates from cheap NP-F battery chargers as battery plates to power your gear. I like this idea, but after using several forms of plates and chargers, thought I would chime in about what to watch out for when buying these frugal items on sites like Amazon and ebay.

The main issue with some of these plates are the battery posts. These are the contact tabs or pins that rest inside of the battery's positive and negative connections. It's the access point of power that runs the juice from the battery to whatever you have connected to it.

The second issue is the number of plastic tabs that hold the battery to the plate. The cheaper, shorter ones only hold the battery by two points of contact. The better, longer models have four points and a longer base for the battery to rest. The short platforms aren't really an issue if the plate is laid flat, but when vertical, the battery can fall out.

This is the most common type of battery tab found on cheap chargers (item 4). The tabs are a fixed, very flimsy metal that is easily bent, so care should be taken when inserting the battery. The platform is also short which doesn't lend to vertical mounting. Since this is a charger made to plug into the wall, this is a bit precarious, as your battery can fall out if bumped. This is a much bigger issue if you are using the plate mounted on a camera rig.

This is another short charger (item 3), but these fixed pins are a bit better. They are made of a solid piece of metal, but are very short. I can't see them going in very far into the positive and negative power wells of the battery, which means they may easily lose their connection. Like the previous charger, the plate is short and doesn't hold the battery well if mounted vertically.

Things continue to improve with the battery cradle (item 5), which offers a lengthier pin, which springs back when pressed. While the cradle is just as short as the two cheap chargers, it has a locking mechanism that must be released for the battery to be removed. This makes the position of the cradle a non-issue. It also has several mounting options such as a removeable bracket and 1/4-20" self threading knob! This was the initial way I mounted my F970 batteries on the Frugal Cage.

These are the pins found in the LCD charger (item 1). They appear to be made of a better material (brass?) and are also mounted on a spring. The mounting plate is long and holds the entire length of the battery on four tabs. This charger is meant to lay flat (it comes with a power cable instead of a built in plug), but holds the battery securely in any position. It also has an LCD screen which gives you charge percentage and voltage. It's the most expensive item on this list ($25), so I would expect it to be well made and it appears to be so. It's my preferred charger for the Sony NP-F battery series.

This the excellent battery plate found on eBay (item 2). It has everything: long, spring loaded, solid metal pins and a long base with four mounting tabs. It's the best plate I've found (that isn't ridiculous in price) and two of them currently reside on the Frugal Cage.

While I was pretty happy with the plate solutions I have been able to find (the only reason I upgraded from the cradle to the dual plate was stability and battery capacity), the cheap chargers have been a crap shoot. You never know what you're getting, despite the pictures shown. I've had several purchases that were for completely different batteries! Ugh.

Whatever you decide to do, I like the fact that there are lots of options for this very common and useful power source. These batteries are all over the place (I use the clone versions) and can be an affordable way to power your gear for a very long time in the field.  All you have to do is mount them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Fake TV Simulator (practical TV effect)

It's always interesting to me how filmmakers can convince (or try to convince) an audience that some off-screen event is happening by what plays out on an actor's face. I'm not just talking about a reaction, but lighting. Simple lighting tricks can make things appear as if they are just out of sight, even if they are not there at all.

A common example of this is a campfire. Your characters are having a conversation around a fire, and you want a consistent flicker of orange light to dance on their faces. Keeping a fire burning at a consistent level for continuity is not just impractical, but downright impossible, and can be unsafe (such as inside a studio). That is when your gaffer employs some kind of gizmo that creates a dancing light effect that can run for hours at the same intensity. You get your "fire" for those closeups without the hassle of dealing with real flames.

Another example is the TV set. Characters watch TV and you see the light from the "show" they are watching play out on their faces. Using a real TV as a light source can be impractical, especially if you need to move it around your set. Again, a tiny gadget comes to the rescue!

I first came across Fake TV (extra bright version here) on a gadget blog and thought it would be perfect for the "TV on the face" effect. It creates a cyclic pattern of light that mimics a televsion signal and, as seen in the video, looks pretty decent. Just put some fake TV sound in post, and the illusion is complete.

This unit is kind of cool in that it not only runs on the included AC power supply, but also my favorite rechargeable batteries, as well as the ubiquitous 9v battery (using a simple adapter). It's cheap and easy to rig on a light stand (see video) and can save some poor crew member from waving a blue gel in front of a light all day.


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