With 2016 almost in our rear view mirror, it’s time to recall the past and look at some of the best gadgets of 2016. These 5 products significantly improved my personal workflow on set, and in general just made my life a lot easier.
Why Improving Your Workflow is Key
In these modern times, it’s easy to lose track of the big picture. New camera announcements every few months, new software every other week… The moment you buy something new, it already seems to be outdated. But don’t be fooled – it’s very important to not lose track but to constantly improve your skills, and a big part of that involves looking at new tools, hardware and software that support your creativity.
For me personally, this closing year was full of new things that really helped improve my workflow or even opened the door for new workflows altogether. Since my budget unfortunately isn’t boundless, here are my top 5 gadgets of 2016 that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. For the latest up to date prices, make sure you scroll to the bottom of the article.
Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K with Firmware 2.3
For some time now, I’d been wanting to get my hands on a decent monitor/recorder combo. I already own a SmallHD DP.6 monitor (SDI version) that was almost $1.300 back in the day. A few weeks after Blackmagic Design announced the release of firmware version 2.3 for their Video Assist line, I was lucky enough to get a great deal on the 4K version. For me, being able to apply LUTs to the monitor image is key, so the Video Assist wasn’t exactly on my radar before the firmware update. But since then, it’s been a different story.
Sure, the Video Assist may not be the king of the hill when it comes to monitor/recorder devices. The offerings by Atomos or Convergent Design are much more capable in almost every aspect, but that, of course, comes at a price. Since I work a lot as a freelance “hired gun”, the Video Assist 4K helps me to get a few shots for myself, for example. Plus, it’s perfect as a director’s viewfinder while still being able to record decent quality video.
Hedge for Mac – Fast Lane
Hedge for Mac is a relatively new app for offloading your footage on set. With the release of version 1.3 in June 2016, the development team introduced a feature called Fast Lane for the paid version ($99) of the app (as a cinema5D reader, you get 10% off by clicking here: https://www.hedgeformac.com/?ref=cinema5D). With it enabled, the transfer speed increases significantly, almost reaching the speed of an ordinary (non-checksum) copy/paste Finder operation.
What a tremendous workflow improvement! More than once I have found myself copying valuable footage with the Finder instead of using dedicated checksum-enabled offloading apps due to tight schedules. With Fast Lane, this is now a thing of the past!
Tangent Ripple with DaVinci Resolve 12.5
Blackmagic Design, again. With the realease of version 12.5 of DaVinci Resolve (a software I still can’t believe is free to download), the company has once again pushed the boundaries. The included NLE suite is not quite there, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. As it’s free of charge, why don’t give it a try? In terms of workflow it’s also really good. I like the idea of not getting into multiple round-trips to other programs in order to finish a project from start to finish.
A real improvement to my color grading workflow is the Tangent Ripple control surface. Well, “control surface” may be a bit of a bold statement, as this is the smallest (and most affordable) panel available to date, but it is certainly a great time-saver. You can control multiple values such as lift, gamma or gain at the same time and right at your fingertips. It is definitely an improvement in comparison to all those point-and-click moves you perform all day, in any case.
As a little bonus, I’d like to add a neat OpenFX plugin, called false color ver. 2.1 by Tomasz Huczek. I’ve already reported about an earlier version if you fancy a read. This new 2.1 version adds a ton of features to the plugin. There is a basic version, which comes for free but has limited features. The Pro version is no longer free of charge, but I think it’s still well worth it as it’s only $4.99! A vast number of presets is available and you can even create your own. This plugin is great for matching different shots or controlling highlights and shadows. Read all about it on Thomas Huczek’s site timeinpixels.com.
DJI Osmo X3 Gimbal
This device is not really a child of 2016, I know. It was originally released in October 2015, but it had a huge impact on my workflow during 2016! It might not be the best gimbal around, but it is certainly the most convenient. You can just throw it in your bag and have it handy when a gimbal shot is required. I wouldn’t pack a MōVI or DJI Ronin if I wasn’t sure I would actually use it, but the Osmo is just there, waiting and ready to go. No setup time, easy operation, convenient data rates… Sure, all that means that the image quality is inferior to other solutions and you’ll need good conditions in order to get the most out of this tiny gimbal. Heavy winds? No good! Low light? No good at all!
The more recent models, X5 camera, Osmo+ and such are big improvements to the original X3 in terms of image quality, but I think this gimbal has seduced many into shooting with gimbals for the first time, including me.
qDSLR Dashboard & LRTimelapse & Adobe Lightroom CC
This is the ultimate combo package when it comes to timelapse shooting, period. Nothing here is originally from 2016, but there are several updates and according to Gunther Wegner, creator of LRTimelapse, an updated version of qDSLR Dashboard seems to be around the corner (early 2017, to be specific).
I did quite a lot of timelapse sequences in the past year and my weapon of choice is this package:
- I capture the images with my good old trustworthy Canon 5D Mark II using qDSLR Dashboard installed on my iPad as a remote (you’ll need an additional modified wifi router since the 5D doesn’t have built-in WiFi).
- Import the whole sequence to LRTimelapse and set keyframes.
- Retouch the keyframes in Lightroom CC.
- Render the final sequence in LRTimelapse.
That’s it! Even the so called holy grail – the transition from day to night or vice versa – is really easy to achieve with these tools. qDSLR Dashboard will take full control over your camera settings without locking you out of the process, so you can always tweak the settings if desired or needed. LRTimelapse will automatically find and mark different kinds of keyframes depending of your workflow, and Lightroom CC will let you do whatever you want in order to produce gorgeous images.
The whole workflow has a learning curve to it, point taken. But the results are really stunning and once you get used to these three tools, timelapse shooting becomes a snap! qDSLR Dashboard is available for $9.99 for iOS and Android, and LRTimelapse comes in three versions: free, home ($100) and pro ($260), so check out the comparison chart for more details. Lightroom CC is subscription-based and comes bundled with Adobe Photoshop CC for $10 per month.
Bonus: Bongo Ties
No top 5 without these! The Bongo Ties aren’t from 2016 either, but they just keep making my days on set a whole lot easier. They are just ordinary rubber bands with a tiny wooden… well, bongo attached to them, but the possible applications seem to be endless! You can tighten various cables to your camera rig, you can attach lightweight devices such as a timecode generator to your V-mount battery, and so on… The possibilities really are endless.
I always tend to have a dozen or so of these in my bag at all times just like with Gaffer Tape. Trust me, you’ll always be in need to attach something to some other thing.
What are your essential pieces of gear for 2016? Let us know in the comments below!