Pontificating on Multimedia

Do One Thing Well

I visited the 62nd annual Missouri Photo Workshop last week, and in the Elks Lodge in Macon, Mo., I watched a string of interviews with some of the faculty at this year’s workshop as they spoke about the benefits and drawbacks of still photographers engaging in multimedia story-telling. While I can’t say I agree with everything he has to say, Randy Olson, a National Geographic contributor for 20 years, does have some very valid points.

Hats off to Nick Michael for putting together this, along with several other compelling video interviews at this year’s MPW.  You can see the rest of the series here.

Hacked firmware for Panasonic GH1

Panasonic Lumix GH1
Panasonic Lumix GH1

Of video and dSLR’s

One of the curious things that I noticed over the last year and a half at the University of Missouri–at least among the photojournalism students–was a rabid fascination with video from the Canon 5D Mark II.  I was one of the first ones in the program to actually buy one (August Kryger beat me by about a week and a half) in December 2009.

Other cameras sprang up that could do video, but people in the program seemed to wear blinders and were obsessed exclusively with 5D II video even though they did not even own a Canon camera or lens.

I say that this is frustrating because I know from first-hand experience that the 5D and the 7D are both very frustrating to use as video cameras, even though the resulting video looks great.  But for every second of good footage I’ve recorded, I’ve lost at least a minute of good material because of all of the physical limitations of using a dSLR for video: framing is a bit of a pain, autofocus is slow, setting up the exposure is also slow, daylight makes it hard to see the rear screen, and you can’t hand-hold it to save your life.  Despite these flaws, I believe that Canon and Nikon have been overly effective at making people believe that they are the only game in town.  Perhaps Olympus is a distant third.  This culture of ignorance of anything that is not Nikon or Canon appears to persist among those who should know better.

Continue reading “Hacked firmware for Panasonic GH1”

Accidental Discovery: A New Use for an Old Tool

Switronix video remote for 5D Mark II and 7D
Switronix video remote for 5D Mark II and 7D - Photo copyright Switronix


Yesterday, while browsing through my e-mail, I came across as ad that highlighted the use of the Switronix FLEX DSLR remote to trigger the recording of video on either the Canon 5D Mark II or the Canon 7D.  I was puzzled, at first, by why such a device was even necessary, before realizing that it clamps onto some of the shoulder and waist-mount rigs for video cameras that make reaching for the “video start” button on the camera awkward.

The FLEX remote uses a semi-rigid cable to go in front of either camera’s infrared sensor that was designed for use with Canon’s own infrared remote, but those are just for still photos, right?



I still have my trusty Canon RC-1, recently discontinued after close to two decades of production.  It was introduced by Canon in 1991 with the EOS Elan (EOS 100 outside of North America), and became a feature of the Elan series (the Elan II and the Elan 7 also used this remote) and some bodies in the Rebel series.

The remote works just like a cable release, but without the cable.  What made it particularly slick was that it gave the photographer the choice of tripping the shutter immediately, or after a two-second delay.  The Elan, like many cameras in its class, didn’t have a built-in two-second delay, only a ten-second count-down timer.  The remote, in effect, added a feature to the camera.  Suddenly, the only reason to have a cable release was for locking the shutter open in a bulb exposure.

Canon RC-1 Infrared Remote Control
Canon RC-1 Infrared Remote Control

I can recall John Shaw commenting incredulously at a seminar held in Milwaukee  in the mid-90’s that Canon made a cool remote control, but for some reason only made it available on one or two consumer cameras, but not on their professional bodies.

When digital cameras came along, in typical Canon fashion, they made this useful tool only available for the lower-end Rebel series.  Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Canon?

While it’s still not compatible with the 1D series cameras, Canon finally made the remote control work with the 5D Mark II and the 7D, and incorporated an interesting trick.

A Remote for Video as well as Stills

The RC-1, and its replacement, the RC-6, can be used with either camera for still photography.  Switch the drive mode to the countdown/remote mode (either 10 seconds or two seconds) and click the button on the remote.  But, if you switch to movie mode (Live View with video enabled on the 5D Mark II), its functionality changes.

The standard photo mode trips the shutter for a photo during video recording.  Setting the remote control to the “2” mark (for a two-second delay) activates (or deactivates) video recording. Cool.

If you don’t own a remote control but have a 5D Mark II or a 7D, I would suggest owning a remote; the video functionality is just the icing on the cake to a versatile and convenient accessory. And don’t worry about the batteries: I’m still in my first set. From 1991.

Thunderstorms over Columbia, Mo.

Thunderstorms over the Water Tower from David Kennedy on Vimeo.

In the wee hours of the morning on June 2, 2010, a wave of thunderstorms swept through Columbia, Missouri.  I took it as an opportunity to make a “thunderstorm time-lapse,” and set up my tripod.  My apartment faces one of Columbia’s landmarks, the water tower, but to get a decent composition of it, I actually had to use a 300mm lens, several feet from the door to my balcony (no need to get wet, though!).  I was hoping for some lightning strikes, but the reflections of the lightning on the water tower, and the illumination of the clouds, was all I could get in the hour that I made these images.

I set the camera up on a remote trigger with an intervalometer, and exposed them all at 30 seconds @ f/9 using 200 ISO on the 5D Mark II and 300mm f/4 L lens.  The time lapse above is made of 57 such photographs.

I should note that part of the process of putting this time lapse together was discovering opsound.com, a resource of royalty-free music.

Overall, the thunderstorm presented a good opportunity and it was a lot of fun to put the time-lapse together; I hope you enjoy the final product.

Draft One: Columbia’s MKT Nature and Fitness Trail

MKT Trail (Draft One) from David Kennedy on Vimeo.

This morning I showed my Picture Story class what is really my first draft of a video and photographic essay the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail in Columbia, Mo.  The nine-mile trail connects to the state-wide Katy Trail in McBaine, Mo.

This is in rough form, unfortunately, because the past couple of weeks have been consumed by my proposed project to fulfill the requirements of the M.A. program here at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.  Before I begin work on that project, which will take me back to Lake Michigan, I will be working to improve this essay.  Foremost, I plan to speak with Brett Dufur, author of The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook, as well as Columbia’s former mayor, Darwin Hindman, who was a champion of projects like the MKT Trail and Stephens Lake Park.

That said, if you have any other suggestions for people to talk to whose voice would strengthen this piece, I am all ears, so to speak!

Third Draft: Stephens Lake Park – A Green Oasis on Broadway

While I was “officially” finished with my contribution to the class’ Broadway project on Wednesday when I turned into my professor, David Rees, a disc with my “second draft” of the video, I was still not quite satisfied with it. The timing of a few things was still off.

On Thursday, I posted another version of the video, and received some more feedback from it both in person and through a comment on the post, and took those into consideration. I was also unhappy with the color of certain clips in the video, and adjusted those within Adobe Premiere. Finally, I went back to Stephens Lake Park for one more “walk around,” which was also my last opportunity to experiment with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens. The result is a little tighter, with better matching between audio and visual components.

I consider this a finished piece, but am still more than happy to hear comments and suggestions.

Stephens Lake Park: A Green Oasis on Broadway

Stephens Lake Park: A Green Oasis on Broadway from David Kennedy on Vimeo.

In late March, I posted a “draft” of my contribution to my Picture Story class’ project on Broadway, one of the main arteries of Columbia, Mo., which was a “think piece” about Stephens Lake Park.

This Monday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Saitta, Parks Development Superintendent for the city of Columbia, and ask his thoughts about the relevance of Stephens Lake Park for the community, and the significance of the park’s location on Broadway.

I believe this to be a significant improvement upon my original idea, and I hope you’ll agree. Comments and criticism always welcome!

House season finale shot on a 5D Mk. II: Why should we care?

DPReview just posted a link to a conversation on PetaPixel in regards to the filming of the season finale of Fox television’s House program using a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR.

Generally speaking, making video with the 5D Mark II is kind of a pain in the butt: it’s hard to focus, the clips tend to be relatively short because of a file size limit of 4gb, manual audio control was only recently made possible, hand-holding the thing is a nightmare, and yet people make the sacrifices to use this tool because the resulting video is stunningly beautiful.

While it might not seem of much consequence to independent storytellers, like photojournalists, that major production companies are using “our” tool for commercial video, it is, in fact, extremely significant: it ensures that Canon will be “forced” to develop the video functionality on its cameras more so than if mere hobbyists and photojournalists were using their DSLR’s.  Why?  Well, who strikes you as a bigger client: Fox Television, or the Columbia Daily Tribune?  The best part?  We’ll all benefit.

Missouri Photo Workshop sequence

After a long week in Festus and Crystal City, Mo. for the 61st Missouri Photo Workshop, I am finally back in Columbia.  It was an amazing week and, Val Mosley and I produced 352 A3-sized prints of the participants’ work.  Wow.

Now it’s time to play catch-up with all of the work I’ve had piling up back at school.

MPW 61 in 30 Seconds from David Kennedy on Vimeo.

America’s Duke

A John Wayne American flag hangs on the back wall at Lucy's on September 24, 2009 in McBaine, Mo.
A John Wayne American flag hangs on the back wall at Lucy’s on September 24, 2009 in McBaine, Mo.

I’m presently working on a story for the “Boone Life” photo column in the Columbia Missourian.  While the story is not yet finished, I thought I would share a detail from the diner where I’m developing something to fit our new theme: beginnings.  In this case, how people begin their days in the small town of McBaine, Mo., population 12.  I’ll link to the story when it is finally completed.


The final story went online last Tuesday while I was at the Missouri Photo Workshop, and can be read on the Columbia Missourian’s Web site.

Boone Life: Rain or shine, farmers shoot the breeze at McBaine diner from David Kennedy on Vimeo.