My first week with the DJI FPV

So it’s safe to say things have been pretty mental and it’s been hard to take any time off this year but as I’ve been working non stop I’ve noticed and have been thinking about the bits of gear that sit on my shelf and never get any use. So I decided to sell a number of items and one of them was my DJI Mavic Pro.

This is a drone that was an absolute work horse for me, it’s is an incredible piece of technology and I have had so much fun flying it over the years. However since upgrading to the Inspire 2 it has pretty much sat on the shelf gathering dust only being wheeled out for small corporate gigs that didn’t want the bigger drone. So I decided to trade it in for DJI’s shiny new FPV drone.

Why did I pick this one in particular, for a number of reasons. First reason is manly for the acrobatic moves that aren’t possible with the Mavic or Inspire series, it will definitely add a few extra options there. My second thread of thought is that if it turns out that I am utterly crap at flying an FPV you still have the option of flying it like a regular drone anyway. The Camera isn’t the best but I can always attach a GoPro to it if needed or use my inspire.

Fiona K Graham on location in Derry shooting with metal band Darkest Era 2021

So my first experience of the FPV has not been amazing, straight out of the box it is not flyable and I was particularly annoyed by the fact you can’t mount a monitor to the controller. I really don’t see why it’s not an option. Another thing that annoyed me was the battery for the goggles is neither in the goggles or attachable to the goggles, why do you have to hang a battery via a cable from your face and why is the power button for the goggles on the battery.

I have a lot of shoots on at the moment so I get about an hour in the evenings to myself to relax and having heard that the FPV has a simulator I thought brilliant I can sit down and give it try before going to bed….no.

I could not for the life of me get the goggles, drone and controller to all connect at the same time and I kept getting error messages saying the drone needed to be updated before it can be flown despite the fact that I updated it twice through my phone. I gave up.

Night two more of the same shit only this time I was using my laptop to update everything. More problems cause DJI don’t seem to be able to get their software to work properly with Mac computers (I recently sent my inspire back to DJI because of what I thought was a fault with the drone that turned out to be their software not working properly on the three different Macs using three different operating systems I tried it on. This needs to be sorted out) I eventually managed to get everything updated but they still wouldn’t connect with each other. Very angry I gave up again.

Night three I powered everything up and it just worked, I have no explanation as to why but it did and I decided not to question it. So sitting down on the couch very excited I downloaded the separate simulator app and took off.

The simulator is quite good and the controls are very responsive. I started in normal mode just to get a feel for it (stick mode 3 cause it’s the same as a playstation controller, my time video gaming had to come in handy for something) I quickly switched to sport mode which is a little looser then normal but still the same controls and quite fun.

DJI FPV

When I switched to Manual (not full manual I haven’t unlocked that yet) the propellors stopped and the drone simply dropped out of the sky. Lesson one. So the controls are drastically different. You don’t pull diagonally down on the sticks to start the props you pull directly down on one then double tap the start button, not sure if this would happen outside of the simulator I will be starting M mode from the ground from now on. The drone then just starts rising and doesn’t stop cause you have to lean the drone forward for forward movement. Best to stick it into hover straight away and work from there.

Once I got the hang of it and started flying something became very apparent….. My motion sickness which limits me to the driver seat of a car kicks in very quickly when using the DJI FPV Goggles. So after throwing up for a bit and an hour on the couch recovering I began to google the issue to see if it was a thing…..yes it’s a thing.

The internet recommends a few things for this issue, first take a dramamine…… I don’t personally want to be taking drugs every time I want to fly so probably not the solution for me. Next up the suggest starting in normal mode and very slowly introducing more movement to get you body used to it and hopefully overcoming it. Aside from that there doesn’t seem to be much else you can do.

The solution I have decided to go with is to mount an iPad to a lighting stand and mount the goggles below, this way I can start small keeping my line of sight with the drone and learning to do the moves by watching the drone while slowly introducing the goggles to the scenario.

So that’s how my first week with the new FPV drone went I’ll do an update when I’ve played with it a bit more and actually flown it.

August Update 2021

It’s been a long time since I have sat down to write an update and with good reason. This has been the busiest I have seen the film industry in a very long time and long may it continue.

So I have been run off my feet working on a range of productions, from DP’ing to Focus Puller and Drone work on a range of projects from shorts to music videos, corporates and massive TV shows for the streaming giants. This week I finally have a bit of breathing room and am back in the office editing in my comfy chair.

It will also give me a chance to get around to a few little gear things I’ve been meaning to get around to.

I just ordered a 16TB internal hard drive to add to my Drobo 4 bay raid array, it’s the largest capacity drive I have ever bought and I’m sure it’ll be full in no time. I think it’s time to start looking into other backup options that don’t involve physical drives, possibly AWS or something.

I finally got around to getting a Boom Buddy which is just a fantastic piece of kit. I’m sure any sound person would tell you that but as a camera person who on occasion has to do sound when a production doesn’t want to hire a sound person or doesn’t have the budget for it, it is great well worth the money.

Two other bits of gear I’m looking at getting are an easy rig vary 5 with a cinema flex vest that actually fits me rather than these rentals that are always too big and a Flanders scientific grading / field monitor. Hopefully this will happen by the end of the year along with the completion of two long term projects.

In other news I have added a new collection of prints to the Jam Art website and I’m working on a few more. Link below:

https://jamartprints.com/?product_cat=fiona-graham

Anyway, back to editing for now more updates soon…….maybe

May Update 2021

I haven’t done an update in a while, it’s been a fairly quiet start to the year but things are picking up. I’ve been working with some great musicians shooting live performances and music videos as well as shooting adverts and docs, editing features, lots of grading. Really looking forward to doing some drama again it look likes there could be some sci-fi on the horizon.

One of the bigger bits of news is that I have teamed up with Jam Art Factory and will be selling my photo prints (namely my exposures series) through them. They have been so great through the whole process and sent me a coupe of test prints which are absolutely fabulous. The matt finish on them really suits the texture of the film, I’m really impressed by them.

The current six prints are available here:

https://jamartprints.com/?s=exposures&post_type=product&fbclid=IwAR2s95UnOacy2Dy_LcQo3ewaQmnU1H7-0NPtL2AOz-MXmJv6ITPDuoDf_aY

I’ll be adding more prints over the year and of course continuing the project. I’ve got two rolls just gone in to Conns Cameras to be developed, Conns have been great during the pandemic allowing me to develop my pictures through the post. I did try going to a few other places that were within walking range but it turns out a lot of places have either gotten rid of their developing machines or they are broken and the repair company for those kind of machines is based in the UK so yet another Brexit problem.

One of the prints I have left in is black and white so I’m excited to see how those shots turn out.

More updates soon, I’ll try be better at doing this more regularly.

Equipment Review #3 – The Secretlab Omega Gaming Chair

With lockdown 3.0 forcing most of my work to Development and Post Production I have been spending a lot more time in the studio and my back has been really suffering for it. Every time I do a long edit, or grading for a few hours I end up cursing my desk chair as pain shoots through my lower back and it wasn’t a cheap chair I think it was around €75 when I bought it.

So this spurred on a year long search for a new chair, mainly because good chairs are really expensive and I’d always talk myself out of spending that much money on a chair when I already have one.

I looked at a wide range of chairs from office to gaming chairs checking top ten lists and reviews and one chair that kept coming up was the Omega Gaming Chair by Secret Lab. It was consistently on every chair list I looked at going back a few years and had gotten great reviews. I was wary about it cause some said people were only getting it because they wanted it for the style rather then function. So I held off till December before making a decision.

So I ordered it on the 26th of December and this morning the chair finally arrived.

Secret Lab Delivery

The chair took some assembly but nothing too complicated and I had it built in under an hour.

Now to the important bit, the sitting.

I have to say it is very comfortable, the lumbar support pillow really hugs your back and seems to keep me sitting in a more upright position. The neck pillow has an elastic band that allows you to slip it onto the top of the chair and adjust its height. The arms rests are adjustable not just by height but move forward, back and rotate left and right. It reclines to almost 180 degrees and when you lean back the seat rocks backwards which is also tension adjustable so you can customise it to your weight.

The difference between it and my other chair is massive, no more lower back pain after hours at a desk. I know some people will say you should just buy a good office chair but when your studio / office is at home and you spend more time then most at your desk (and also some gaming) you really need one that you’re going to be happy with and I am very happy with this investment.

Lets see if I’m still happy in a few months

Secretlab Omega Gaming Chair

December Update 2020

Well I think it’s safe to say it’s been an overall shit of a year but there’s been a lot of positives it’s over now. After a busy winter season a nice quiet Christmas was very welcome. It’s been a while since I’ve posted so here are a few things I meant to post about but didn’t get around to:

As a factory driver for Colourlab Ai I did a video testimonial outlining one of the ways I use the platform to optimise my workflow. It really is a fantastic program and I’m excited to be using it along with Look Designer 2.0 on my next project but more on that later.

I’ve got to work alongside some amazing people on Other Voices in Dingle and in the Storehouse and shot some amazing music with Jameson Connects. I was blown away by the serious amount of Irish talent out there it was a nice pick-me-up of a job and I even went so far as to buy a physical album from one of the artists.

https://www.youtube.com/user/OtherVoicesLive

There were many more shoots that were all great fun but too many to mention and some I can’t anyway.

I was very happy with the results of my multi-exposure expired film experiment the method really give some interesting results that you just wouldn’t get with a digital camera. I’ll definitely be exploring this method further next year, I still have three rolls of it to develop so god knows what’s going to come out of that. I’ll be putting the prints up for sale in the new year so there’ll be a link appearing on the website soon.

We’ve had to shut down for the holidays (mainly cause everyone else did and I can’t get much done aside from project development with everywhere closed – covid didn’t help there either) So I’ll be doing inventory of my gear while it’s quiet and seeing if there’s anything don’t use anymore that can go up for sale and what new bits I need to get, cause as we all know the gear list never ends. I’m looking forward to getting shooting again and working on new projects so happy new year, stay safe and lets hope 2021 gets better and better.

Reviews: Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus

So this is the second gear review I’ll be posting but the first post entirely dedicated to a review.

This past two weekends I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus on a job so I thought I’d give it a review.

The unit is easy enough to set up but in prep we had an issue with the motor switching it’s direction when turning the focus wheel even slightly which was very odd but doing a factory reset on the handset and re-syncing the devices solved the issue.

Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus set up on an Alexa Mini LF
Tilta Nucleus-M Wireless Follow Focus set up on an Alexa Mini LF

The unit aims to keep things compact by having the transmitter built into the motor, this makes the motor itself quite chunky and at times made it awkward to mount depending on what kind of lens we were using. When switching from zoom lens’s back to primes it meant that we had to re-rig the eye piece to accommodate the bulky motor. This issue was partly because we had decided to mount the motor from the top but could have been avoided if we were able to switch the gear to the other side of the motor which you can do on most units but it is not an options with this device. You can remove the 15/19mm clamp front the motor and position it four different ways but cut switching the side the gear was on is an option I missed. The re-rigging didn’t take much time and it didn’t leave us under pressure but it was a little annoying.

The menu system was not intuitive and changing settings required a bit of research, for example changing the motor channel was not an option in the menu, you triple tap the arrow buttons up or down on the motor to the left and right of the display to change the channel. But the motor was light for its size and not having a separate transmitter would be handy for gimbals

Tilta Nucleus-M motor set up on an Alexa mini LF
Tilta Nucleus-M motor set up on an Alexa mini LF

The handset is small and light but by no means feels cheap, the build is certainly solid and I was quite impressed with the action on the wheel which feels really nice. Being on the end of a 290mm lens wide open trying to follow a sports person playing a match is no easy feat but I can honestly say there were no issues with the units performance from a focus point of view. It was responsive, smooth and reliable.

Alexa mini LF fitted with 290 zoom lens, teredek blot 300 and Tilta Nucleus-M
Alexa mini LF fitted with 290 zoom lens, teredek blot 300 and Tilta Nucleus-M

I did not have the opportunity to get to use the zoom or iris functions in this instance but I did like where the zoom button was placed. It falls exactly where your thumb rests when using the unit and felt solid. The iris wheel I’m not sure about it seemed to be in an awkward spot and a little flimsy but I did not use it.

Overall the system reminded me of Sony cameras, practically very good but with an over complicated menu system.

For under a grand you can’t really argue with it, a single motor unit can run you €662 while a full kit comes to around €1200 and for the price it is an excellent piece of kit. Given the choice (and no financial limit) I wouldn’t choose it over a WCU-4 or a Preston but if the money was coming out of my pocket it would definitely be on my short list.

New Studio Space for the North East

So there is going to be a new studio space for film production in Drogheda soon and a while ago I went down to see it.

Rippin Studios is in Donore Industrial Estate and run by Seán Ó Cearrúlláin of SkyHigh Productions. This space is being marketed as a creative workspace at an affordable rate.

Once finished this will be the permanent home of Sky High productions but they plan to provide facilities for a sound stage, podcast studio, video village, editing and vfx, live streaming, a general workspace, set building, dressing rooms and Shower / WC facilities for anyone looking. Studio rentals can include camera, lighting, grip and post equipment provided in house. So essentially they are looking to provide a full production service, a one stop shop for location and equipment.

Seán Ó Cearrúlláin working in Rippin Studios
Seán Ó Cearrúlláin working in Rippin Studios

Their advertised rates are: long term – negotiable, daily €200 and week nights 6pm – 4am €20 per hour. (prices do not include metered electricity)

35 minutes from Dublin and 60 minutes from Belfast the space is easily accessible from the M1. The entrance is in an industrial estate with space for you to back a large camera trust right up to, or into the main studio area

Rippin Studios, Drogheda - Main studio area
Rippin Studios, Drogheda – Main studio area

Still in the construction stage the main studio space includes a 40 square meter area for building sets, setting up green screens or what ever your needs might be. The area is a good size for single room set builds with plenty of head space for a second floor.

The studio space leads on to a production / office area with a small kitchenette. This area will also have a storage area for equipment.

Rippin Studios production / office area under construction
Rippin Studios production / office area under construction

Upstairs it will have Sky high productions permanent offices that people will not have access to and across from them a 20 square foot office space and an editing area that can seat up to eight people. They have plans for a viewing / waiting room as well.

Rippin Studios Office Space
Rippin Studios Office Space

The project is an ambitious one and I wish the lads all the best with it, they are always looking to promote and help Irish film makers and I really hope they pull off everything they are planning. It’s always good to have spaces like this available.

For more info on the studio or to get in touch with them their email address is rippinstudiosmeath@gmail.com

Drones, Docs and Dojos

So we’re entering another week of lockdown and people are getting frustrated and stressed, I’m not going to suggest what people should be doing or things to do to keep positive or anything like that, everyones circumstances are different and there is no one fits all . But on the upside the film industry is working and there appears to be a lot of work out there.

Things do seem to be very last minute and a lot of stuff is being rescheduled and pushed back even as I write this another shoot I’m on has been moved for the third time but the industry is moving and that’s not nothing.

So what have I been doing since my last post. Well, not a huge amount to be honest there’s been a few day work on Dramas and corporates but a lot of them keep getting moved due to the current situation. So to keep myself sane I have been going for evening runs and learning how to play Dungeons and Dragons. Anyway back to the film stuff, I took my drone out to soldiers point and the Cooly mountains for a practice run then brought the footage into Davinci Resolve and used Lookdesigner by colour lab to try out different looks

And when not shooting stock footage on my drone or working on corporates or dramas, I’ve been working on a few personal projects. The edit for my documentary “In The Shadow of The Bull” is very close to being locked. This doc has taken me years to get near the end of and has broken my heart more then once but it’s nearly there, we’re about to enter the scoring and grading phase and I’m looking forward to getting it out there. Hopefully there’ll even be an “in person” festival run.

A Still from interview with Alex Meehan of the Namiryu Dojo

I’ve also started a new project, a documentary on martial arts namely Bujinkan with the Bujinkan Namiryu Dojo. The Doc is about the evolution of the art from ancient Japan to modern day, it’s place in western and modern society and the people who study the art. I have been training there for four years now and aside this is a subject I am passionate about it’s more then an excuse to study more about the art. Last Wednesday I shot an interview with Alex Meehan the Sensei of the dojo which was absolutely fascinating. here is a still from the shoot showing the RAW Footage from the RED Scarlet Dragon and the LUT I designed for it in Davinci Resolve. The LUT is a Kodak5217 Vision 2 200T film stock emulation printed on 2398 modern stock. ( +4 C, 0 M, -3 Y).

For more info on current projects or to discuss new ones feel free to get in touch. I’m always looking for things to shoot or colour, I’m especially interested in shooting more drama at the moment.

fionagraham@singlecellfilms.com

Metal Gigs, Calibrations and new Studios

This Sunday sees the release of Saor’s Lockdown Live Gig which I had the pleasure of editing. Like all bands during this pandemic The Scottish folk metal band headed by Andy Marshal have seen all their gigs and tours cancelled this year so they’ve decided to record a one hour multi camera live gig in Audio, Glasgow.

The will be going out live across Facebook, Twitch, and YouTube simultaneously Sunday 18th October 19:30 (BST)

Facebook – www.facebook.com/saorofficial

YouTube – www.youtube.com/c/fortriuproductions

Twitch – www.twitch.tv/fortriuproductions

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the lads before when I shot their music video Bròn which currently sits at 422,061 views, definitely the most watched video I’ve ever made.

I have to say the lads are so nice and an absolute pleasure to work with and Saors music is amazing. Looking forward to watching the gig as it goes out, I hope it goes really well for them and the fans like it.

It’s great to see musicians playing again and I always love working on musical project so if anyone has any ideas that could help the musical community film or video wise feel free to get in touch.

In other news this week I just got back from Galway working on a show that shall remain nameless for now to settle back into a nice, relaxed bit of editing only to find I needed to recalibrate my monitors again. They seems to be slipping much quicker then they used to. At the moment I am using a Datacolor SpyderX Pro to calibrate my monitors but instead of doing it monthly I find I am having to do it at least once a week.

Datacolor SpyderX Pro

Thats not to say there is anything wrong with the device, the SpyderX Pro is very good, surprisingly quick and accurate. It’s also small enough that I don’t mind packing it into my bags when travelling. The fault is more with the monitors age, it just ends to slip quicker these days.

Im hoping soon to be able to afford a Flanders Scientific monitor but at the moment it is a little out of my price range.

Anyway in film news Sky High Productions are opening a new studio in Drogheda called “Rippin Studios”. It’s in the construction stages at the moment but will be opening soon to anyone who needs a sound stage. In the link below you can see Seán talking about it and giving a little tour of the space.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1411615779049038

October Update

So it’s been an interesting few weeks, It seems like I’ve been saying that a lot and I keep thinking of that old Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” but it is none the less true. Dublins gone back into lockdown and it looks like the rest of the country is going to follow but sure we’ll keep going the best we can. If they do shut everything down again I’ll be sure to be out with the drone.

Since my last update I’ve had two shoots assisting the lovely people at Tiny Ark, Submitted two projects to Tg4’s Ignite program, edited one promotional trailer, Finished editing a live gig for a band in Scotland (more on that later) and gotten back to work on my doc on the legacy of The Field “In The shadow of the Bull”.

The Ignite Scheme looks interesting. “The scheme is project-led, and will support the progression of the selected projects and their teams, through training that will focus on the development process of documentary, from inception to exhibition. The scheme will foster a new generation of non-fiction creative documentary talent from all over the island of Ireland to pursue their first or second feature, and to provide them with a platform to develop the spectrum of skills and knowledge required to succeed as a feature documentary filmmaker on an international level.” So it looks like the selected film makers will get much more out of it than just funding, fingers crossed we get at least one project in. Not sure what the notification date is.

Anyway one thing I have been very happy with lately is three new pieces of software I have been working with called Look Designer 2.0, Grain Lab and Colour Lab AI. I had mentioned in previous posts that I was doing grading courses taught by Dado Valentic and part of that course was we got to beta test these pieces of software. The first two are plugins for DaVinci Resolve while the third is a stand alone program and I would highly recommend them to anyone who does their own grading. Check out the link below for more information on them.

https://colourlab.ai/look-designer/

Three of the shots in these pictures (Taken from the promo for the Doc “Searching for Maria”) were shot on the Sony A7sii and three of them were shot on the RED Dragon. They were graded using Look Designer 2.0 emulating Kodak 5217 Vision 2 200T film stock printed on a 2398 Modern Negative.

I’ll be trying out Colour Lab AI on the next project I shoot so hopefully Covid won’t postpone it too long.