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Chris Blair's Blog

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Quicktime – Error 46: Could not find or load activex control

I’ve struggled for months with this error message from Quicktime Player on our main Windows 7 editing system. Quicktime simply would not open no matter what “fixes” were applied from the internet (and there were plenty “suggested” ones out there).

It took me probably 4 or 5 hours across several different days (and attempts) during “down-time” to FINALLY find a “fix” that worked. It appears the REAL problem is that virtually none of the well-meaning folks who posted fixes can write accurate instructions. I finally found the right mix of instructions from someone who had gone through the same frustrations as I did.

What basically happens with this problem is that Quicktime’s installer somehow messes up permissions on Windows 7, so when you go to run the program, Windows 7 doesn’t allow it to start. The problem occurs in the registry across dozens of entries, so fixing it manually is a nightmare, and simply uninstalling the program doesn’t delete the registry entries, so they remain borked, even when you reinstall Quicktime.

What every online set of instructions leaves out is that you MUST run particular file in Vista compatibility mode before the fix will work. So use the instructions listed at this link:

But add the following:

AFTER you install subinacl.msi, go to C:Program Files (x86)Windows Resource KitsTools and right-click on subinacl.exe and change its compatibility mode to Windows Vista (Service Pack 2). Do the same thing to the reset.cmd file that you downloaded.

Every set of instructions on the web leaves out the part about changing the compatibility of the subinacl.exe file, which from all the research I did, isn’t a normal Windows 7 component. So by NOT changing the compatibility of the file, it doesn’t run right. This is the ONLY way the fix in the link will work properly on Windows 7.

Hope this helps someone and saves them from the hours and hours of frustration I went through. While I sincerely appreciate the efforts of others to help people solve computer problems, it drives me crazy how techies are unable to clearly write down the steps necessary to apply a fix. Unfortunately, this inability to write clearly is very common on tech based sites.

Posted by: Chris Blair on Aug 27, 2013 at 10:05:15 am ComputersThoughts & Musings

3D Television Networks: 3 Years Later

By Chris Blair

I published the original post below in July of 2010, saying I couldn’t imagine how 3D television networks could find an audience, and more importantly, lure enough advertisers to survive. Predictably, ESPN3D announced on Wednesday that it would soon be shuttered. Their official statement cited, “limited viewer adoption.” That’s fancy talk for, “nobody was watching.”

I was utterly villified in a forum thread on Creative Cow for my disparaging views about 3D back about the same time as my original post.

Most people took issue with the fact that I disagreed with the consensus that 3D in TV and movies was going to soon be the norm for production, and that if we didn’t all embrace it we’d be left behind. My argument at the time was that our clients weren’t even asking for (or using) HDTV, much less 3D. I also questioned how the economics of 3D television, even at the network level, would ever produce profits. Above are links to the now amusing threads in which many on the Cow predicted 3D television was “the future of broadcasting and production.”

What’s amusing to me now is how 4K production is wrestling the mantle away from the 3D fad. All the talk in trade magazines and forums is that if you don’t gear up to shoot 4K you’re going to be left behind. Heck….we STILL have clients who don’t want or use HD! They continue to ask for standard definition DVDs for presentation and field use.

Now before anyone squawks….yes…we shoot and post almost everything in HD and suggest blu-ray to clients, but seems adoption of blu-ray players isn’t much wider than 3D TV! And what about HD in television spot placement? Since 2011 we’ve produced virtually all spots in HD, but about 50% of the TV stations and networks we buy still down-rez those HD spots (yes to SD) for ingest into their playout servers, then scale them back up for playback on their HDTV feed.

And many large companies that buy local ad time on network affiliates continue to skip HDTV ad placement, mainly due to the added bandwidth expense of digitally sending spots via companies like DG and Extreme Reach. Last time we checked, it cost roughly $30-35 to send an SD spot and nearly $100 to send an HD one. We used to send out over 300 spots for one client bi-weekly. Using those numbers, sending in SD is a savings of $21,000 a week, or for 26 spot sends per year, $546,000. Put in those financial terms, it’s easy to see why an advertiser would opt to supply SD spots to stations considering half of them are going to down-rez the HD spot anyway!

Below is the original post published in July of 2010:

By Chris Blair

I must admit, I’m not much of a fan of 3D in movies and television. About the only time I’ve ever enjoyed it is at amusement park rides and shows, such as Mickey’s Philharmagic at Disney’s Magic Kingdom or Muppet Vision 3D at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I’ve also read that shows like Terminator 2: 3D at Universal Studios are great fun. But even then, most of the enjoyment comes from the completely over the top 3D effects.

At the movie theater the much ballyhooed Real3D seems to be more hype than substance, typically dimming the image to the point that it looks muted and muddy. Even worse, the process often distracts from the story rather than enhancing it. That’s not just my opinion either. Film critics like Roger Ebert and renowned filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola have been outspoken critics of 3D. And consider that Coppola made a 3D movie for Disney theme parks starring Michael Jackson back in 1986. The film, called Captain EO, was recently put back into several of Disney’s parks following Jackson’s death last year!

So now here we are almost 2 months into the launch of the first 3D TV Network, ESPN3D. Coupled with the craze surrounding 3D movies, I figured it would be a good time to see how 3D television is doing. But after spending nearly an hour searching online, there’s surprisingly very little in the way of news or reviews about any of the networks or programming.

Discovery Channel’s 3D network doesn’t have a name and hasn’t even announced an official launch date, only saying it will be sometime in “early 2011.” ESPN3D debuted in early June with 3D broadcasts of the World Cup. I can’t help but notice the lack of fanfare about it both then and now. How many people watched a World Cup match in 3D? According to industry reports, not many. Official estimates were under a million. And remember, soccer is hands down the most popular spectator sport in the world and the World Cup the most popular sporting event. ESPN even brought technology journalists to their Bristol, Conn. headquarters to watch one of the matches in 3D, and even those reviews are lukewarm at best. Note that ESPN likely had the room setup for the absolute best possible viewing experience too!

Another popular sporting event that was broadcast in 3D even before the launch of ESPN3D was The Masters. Comcast produced it and while golf doesn’t seem like a prime candidate for 3D, reviews for it were actually better than those of the World Cup. The most common positive comment was that the 3D images showed the topography of the course, which is undulating and hilly, something that’s completely lost in 2D. Many reviewers also said it made distances of shots seem more accurate, meaning if Phil Michelsen was standing 150 yards from the green, when the camera was behind him, the 3D image made that more realistic looking than in 2D, which tends to compress distances.

But the negative comments were plentiful too, with reports of weird double-vision like effects when objects close to the camera (but in soft focus) came into view. Or the same double-vision issues with background elements, like people in the galleries. Perhaps these are technical issues that can be ironed out, but it’s surprising that a notoriously slow-moving sport like golf received better reviews than a fast-moving sport like soccer.

Before it starts to sound like I’m a fan of sports programming in 3D, I’ll go on record as saying a 3D sports channel is about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Just go back to the dismal reviews of the 3D imagery in virtually every 3D motion picture released since Avatar. It’s preposterous to think consumers are going to buy new, 3D televisions and those expensive, silly-looking glasses for live sporting events when the process brings nothing but novelty to the experience. And what about advertisers? Will they continue to pay a premium to advertise in 3D events when they see the dismal audience numbers?

I do believe 3D has a place in some types of programming and films, especially animation, children’s movies and computer generated films that allow for virtually limitless possibilities in terms of visual effects. But sports in 3D? Traditional television dramas? I just don’t see how the cost of entry (a new TV, expensive glasses) is worth the novelty effect it provides.

Roger Ebert even argues (quite effectively I might add) that 3D imagery is less realistic to viewers than traditional 2D motion pictures, saying: “Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.” Plus, virtually all 3D that I’ve seen definitely does NOT mimic how human vision works. Hence, I’m often distracted by the different planes of imagery

Here are some other links to interesting articles about 3D, including a review from the Time/CNN blog about the World Cup matches, a list of 3D movies in theaters and theme parks that dates back to the early 1990′s, and a PC Magazine review of the World Cup matches and an earlier 3D sports TV test of an NFL football game.

3D Television Networks: 3 Years Later Republished by Chris Blair

Review: CPM Filmtools DSLR Flyer Shoulder Rig

When I bought a Canon 60D at the beginning of 2011, I quickly realized I was going to need some sort of mounting rig, as well as handheld support. DSLR cameras are simply not designed to move the way traditional video cameras do, and the controls, especially camera start/stop, are inconvenient at best. So a rail and cage system for mounting accessories, as well as a shoulder mount that faciliates handheld shooting are pretty much necessities if you’re using it as your “A” camera on shoots.

If you’ve researched mounting rigs, rails, and shoulder supports, you probably know that the quality of design and prices vary wildly. Zacuto’s offerings are widely acknowledged as the industry’s finest, but the price tag on their gear seems ridiculously overpriced to this veteran shooter. There are lesser priced offerings from Redrock Micro, Cinevate, Letus and others, but they too seem overpriced to me, especially when you consider the materials and their relatively low-tech design. That’s where CPM Filmtools comes in. They appear to be plastics company that somehow created a side business of making DSLR support gear. Their rigs differ from their competitors in that they use injected molded components. According to their website, their rail rods are made from carbon fiber, and their cages, plates and mounting components are made from carbon filled polycarbonate.  The idea is that this provides strength but at lighter weights than metal based systems. CPM also makes and/or packages lots of other gear as well, like a follow focus, monitor support gear etc.

Keep in mind that many professional tripods and camera bodies (video and still) are made from carbon fiber and carbon filled polycarbonate. So these are common materials that have stood up to years of rigorous professional use in our industry. The CPM Filmtools DSLR Flyer is a combination rail mount, cage system and shoulder mount designed for use with HDSLR cameras. The package lists for $499 less shipping and includes:

Four 12″ Carbon Rails

Two 4″ carbon Rails

Two Side Grips

One Quick Release system

A small Uni Strut

A Belly Pan

An Offset Z Bracket

A Shoulder Mount Kit

A Counter Weight Kit

Buying online was quick and easy, the order shipped within 24 hours and it was delivered in 2 days. Customer service was prompt and my email questions were answered within an hour or two during business hours. So far so good on that front. So how does the CPM Filmtools DSLR Flyer rig rate?

Well…it’s a mixed bag. It is indeed light and strong. But it’s certainly not as rigid as a metal system. And while the system works, I can’t help but think that the folks that designed it don’t actually use it in professional environments, which may not be all bad considering their market. As a video professional with almost 28 years of experience, I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality to pro gear. But the line between “pro” and “consumer” started blurring a long time ago…and today, consumer gear in the hands of a professional can produce excellent results. Overall, the CPM Flyer rig is a good product, but there are some issues with the model we received that keep it from getting high marks.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the box was the really cheap quick release mounts that came with our unit. I immediately got on B&H Photo’s website and ordered two Giotto quick release systems to replace the CPM versions….and a visit to the CPM website a couple months later  revealed they now offer the Giottos as an option. So I must not have been the only customer that thought the CPM quick release plates were inferior. So that’s one problem the CPM guys have fixed.

The carbon fiber rods on the system are indeed very strong and incredibly light, but when you try to slide the mounting brackets on and off, the rubber-like plastic on the rod bracket has a tendency to sort of stick. It just doesn’t slide easily the way a metal rail system does. My other major complaint is the knob screws. They’re hard to turn since they have rubbery knobs and they don’t seem to ever tighten to the point of keeping things in place. As an example, our system came with two hand grips that attach to a small rod clamp. The clamp has a 1/4 20 threaded mount on one side to screw the grips into, and another mount on the opposite side to attach to the rods. But no matter how much we tighten the knobs, the rod clamp always loosens and allows the handgrip to slide out of position. The only way to get the rod clamp tight is with a pair of pliers, which sort of defeats the purpose of thumb screws. I actually broke one of the rod clamps trying to tighten it. That’s something that likely won’t happen with metal rod clamps and rods.

The plates and brackets do stay in place using the CPM thumb screws, but like the rod clamps above, they don’t slide easily for adjustment, even if you remove the knob screws. In CPM’s defense, when I emailed CPM about problem, they did send me completely new rods (made differently) and new rod clamps for the grips. But the rod clamps appeared to be identical to the originals…and unfortunately, didn’t slide on or off the new rods any better. So I don’t think the problem is with their rods, which are nicely made, it’s with the clamps. One thing that helped was brushing a little ground graphite onto the rods, but it’s not a permanent solution.

My other complaint is the system came with no instructions. All the parts are shrink wrapped onto a flat piece of cardboard, and while the box and packing is very professional, it literally took me about 2 hours of experimenting (while looking at photos on the website) to figure out how to put the thing together. What you quickly realize is that you can configure the DSLR Flyer system in a bunch of different ways. I ended up configuring it much differently than the lone example photo on the website, and while it’s relatively easy to put the thing together, it would be a huge timesaver if you could look at some sample configurations on their website. I did notice this evening that they’ve added some tutorial videos to the site, which is helpful, but some simple instructions or sample photos are much needed.

A very nice touch with the DSLR Flyer is a counter weight kit that attaches to the back of the rig to help balance the system when shooting hand-held. But again, the mounting bracket is extremely difficult to slide on and off the carbon fiber rails. It almost feels like the 15mm holes on the brackets are too small.

Overall the system works well enough, but I’ve spent hours messing with the configuration trying to find a sweet spot that works for both hand-held and shoulder mounted shooting. You can get the system on and off a tripod pretty quickly if you want to transition from tripod to shoulder, but I’ve never found a way to balance the rig and camera on the tripod AND balance it for hand-held shooting. It seems that if you balance it for hand-held shooting, it’s back-heavy when mounted to the tripod. Balance it on the tripod and it becomes front-heavy for hand-held shooting. Theoretically you could just loosen one of the plates or brackets and slide components back and forth to re-balance, but the brackets and mounts are so “sticky” on the rails that it becomes a huge pain in the rear. Of course I could complain about the poor ergonomics and balance of a lot of DSLR rigs. In fact, many of them look just plain goofy. I have to admit the CPM rig IS a nice looking rig. The cage is a little odd looking, but aren’t they all? The best cages I’ve seen are small and fit snugly around the camera and have cutouts for battery, SD card slots, controls etc.

One other issue we’ve had is that the belly plate that holds the tripod mount doesn’t slide cleanly onto our Miller tripod head. The bottom of the CPM plate rubs up against the knob that tighens and holds the tripod plate in place. Perhaps this is an issue with the Miller tripod, but Miller products are quite popular in the video production world so it could be that the CPM plate was never tested with their products. It appears they’ve targeted their products at the mid-range shooter who’s probably using less expensive tripod systems from companies like Manfrotto, so again…not an indictment, just a fact.

Overall, I think the guys at CPM want to make a quality product and they’ve done a nice job of producing a system that is affordable, strong, lightweight and versatile. If they can fix the bracket and rod mount problems, and get their knob screws to actually hold things in place, they’d have a fantastic DSLR solution at a modest price. But as it stands now, it’s a mid-range solution that mostly works but has some issues. With a system like Zacuto, you’re not paying for materials and workmanship (although they’re top-notch), you’re paying for something that’s been field tested by experienced professionals and then tweaked to work without a lot of fuss from the end-user. That explains the big difference in price between the mid-range products and theirs.  So if you’re on a budget and want a lightweight, strong rail and shoulder-mount system and can live with the problems listed, then this is a good solution. But if you make your living shooting video using DSLR cameras, there are more mature (albeit more expensive) solutions available. Bottom line, we use it quite a bit, but we don’t use the hand grips with their rod clamps because they just don’t work. I replaced them with a set from Proaim that work very well with the CPM rig. The rest of the CPM rig is solid though and gets the job done.

Posted by: Chris Blair on Jul 11, 2012 at 8:39:19 pm DSLR VideoProduction TechniquesVideo Production

PROAIM Shoulder Rig Kit-201 – Review

We recently added a Panasonic AF-100 camera along with several lenses to our shooting gear and after testing our CPM Film Tools rig with it,  it became obvious we were going to need a heavier-duty rig to make the setup functional. After hours spent researching various options, I decided to take a chance on the Proaim Shoulder Rig Kit-201 from

Here’s a direct link to what we bought.

Considering that we only shoot about once or twice a week on average, I couldn’t see spending several thousand dollars for similarly configured kits from Redrock Micro, Cinevate, Zacuto or half a dozen other support companies.

Now I already know what you’re thinking. Equipment made in India is cheap and poorly made! Well…I’m hear to tell you that I’m more than happy with the purchase and am in fact quite impressed by the quality and value of this kit.  It included a camera mount, 5 rods, a variety of rod blocks and clamps, a shoulder mount, a follow focus, a matte box, and I added a Gold Mount battery plate with dual rod clamps. Customer service was very good and prompt and I received my order about a week after ordering it, which I thought was pretty fast from India. It was extremely well-packed, and I was immediately surprised by the build quality, which was mostly metal or machined aluminum. The only thing that isn’t all metal is the matte box, but I actually like the sturdy ABS plastic that it’s made from. The french flag and side flags are made from aluminum and parts of the matte box itself are also metal, so all in all it seems very sturdy.

I had read quite a few forum posts and reviews that complained about build quality, loose screws, etc. on Proaim products, but frankly I haven’t found too much to complain about. But to be safe, I did go through the gear and hand-tighten set screws and such. I’m particularly impressed by the extremely affordable follow-focus. I had read complaints that it has too much play, but the one I received has very little play and when installed properly, seems very smooth. In fact, it’s as smooth as follow focus models I’ve rented that have purchase price tags into the thousands of dollars. The Proaim V2 model that came in my kit sells for just under $300 and it’s well worth it in my opinion.

Now I have to admit the build precision of the entire kit isn’t anywhere close to what you might get from Chrosziel or Zacuto, but I don’t expect it to be for the price, which for my entire kit was under $1000. What I mean is that if you look really closely at the camera plate, you can see that the screw holes and plate itself aren’t precision machined. In layman’s terms they are slightly “off.” But it’s so slight that it doesn’t adversely affect how the gear functions.

On a couple of occasions I have had to give the camera a slight “push” when sliding it onto the quick release, but heck, I have to occasionally do that with our Vinten and Miller tripod plates as well. The camera plate itself seems very well-made and sturdy. It has a nice, heavy feel and is all metal (or aluminum). It also has a stylish look, with touches of a blue paint in various places on the otherwise mostly silver and black finish.

The best thing about their kit is all the extras thrown in for free. There are several additional gears for the follow-focus, along with  a whip and a hand-crank, both of which seem very well-made and functional. The matte box comes with a variety of soft foam gaskets or “donut rings” to fit a variety of lenses, along with a couple of spares that you can custom cut to fit other lenses. The kit also comes with a rod bracket and weights to help balance the rig depending on how you configure it.

I also added their Gold-Mount plate with dual rod blocks, an item that’s not even listed or pictured on their site. I just asked off the cuff if they had an Anton-Bauer plate and surprisingly, they did! What I like about it is two rod blocks come standard with the plate and are already securely attached.  They allow for mounting either vertically or horizontally on the plate rods. The gold-mount plate also came with a D-tap to lemo 4pin cable, for which I have no use, but I can probably get $50 for it on Ebay since similar cables sell for over $100 at various places. The plate was under $200 and is also well worth it, with a nice fit for Anton-Bauer and third-party branded gold mount batteries. I’ve bought gold-mount plates from places like Beillein and our batteries fit so tightly that you almost have to force them on and off. Not so with the Proaim plate, which functions exactly like an Anton-Bauer branded one.

While I like our CPM Film Tools fig and it works well for lightweight DSLRs, this Proaim kit is much more sturdy and can handle larger cameras like the AF-100, which we often use with a 2/3″ Fujinon 20x lens, along with a small teleprompter from, which I’ll review in another post.

PROAIM Shoulder Rig Kit-201 – Review Republished by Chris Blair

Posted by: Chris Blair on Apr 1, 2012 at 6:21:57 pm DSLR VideoEquipment ReviewsVideo Production

Canon 60D: Final Thoughts

We’ve been using the Canon 60D for 10 months now and I’ve already posted twice about our experiences with the camera. We’ve used it for TV commercials, marketing videos and short-form promotional videos, many of which involved on-camera talent requiring scenes with dialogue and on-camera spokespeople.

So what are my thoughts now that I’ve used it extensively? Well…you can get great results using these cameras, but when it comes to ergonomics and workflow in the field, the 60D (and DSLR cameras in general) just doesn’t compare to a dedicated professional video camera. The 60D certainly has its share of good qualities, especially its excellent video quality. It’s also generally easy to operate. But in my opinion, using DSLR cameras as your “A” camera for professional projects simply requires too many peripheral devices and convoluted cabling setups.

The two biggest issues are with sound recording and monitoring and external video monitoring. Even though the 60D has manual audio controls, unless you’re willing to load third party firmware (called Magic Lantern) every time you turn the camera on, controlling audio levels and monitoring is a convoluted process, requiring microphone preamps, a separate digital sound recorder (mainly for backup) and crazy cabling setups. You also cannot see your VU meters while shooting. The only way to check those is by way of a menu setting during your sound check. You can monitor sound through a separate field mixer or mic preamp while shooting, but it’s a bit disconcerting to not have a meter to check as well.

We’ve also experienced an odd, high-pitched noise on the auido of some of the 60D’s digital files. Oddly, the corresponding audio on our Zoom H2 recorder sounds perfect. This is significant because both signals are coming from the same mixer! We’ve ruled out the microphones, the cabling setup and the cabling itself through extensive testing. Unfortunately, we have not been able to rule out or duplicate the problem in our mixer/preamp (an ART Dual PreUSB). So it’s either an intermittent problem in this small mixer, or it’s a problem somewhere in the 60D’s audio circuitry.

Since I haven’t officially been able to rule it out, I can’t say with certainty the 60D has a problem. I will say that when I put the uncompressed .wav files recorded by the Zoom next to good audio files recorded with the 60D, they’re indistinguishable, both on the waveform and to my ears. So the perception that Canon DSLR cameras record “dirty” sound doesn’t hold water….unless of course our 60D is what’s generating that occasional high-pitched noise. My guess is it’s in the mixer, but until I can prove it I really can’t say where it’s coming from. Having the Zoom files available solved any post-production problems, but it’s still a pain to have to record separate sound. 

Video monitoring is yet another pain. You can send an HDMI signal to an HDMI capable monitor, but you can’t get rid of many of Canon’s on-screen menus, such as exposure readings and center frame markings (unless you use Magic Lantern). Same goes for SD monitoring, which can be utilized with a Canon supplied cable. But the down-converted composite signal is positively awful and is only good for framing and very general exposure checks.

And sending a signal to a second monitor for client viewing is a nightmare via HDMI. You either need an LCD monitor with HDMI loop-through (I’m only aware of 2 that are available, one from Marshall and one from Lilliput); or an HDMI splitter. We already owned a $1000 LCD monitor with HDMI input, so I bought an HDMI splitter. Then I bought another one, then another one….well…you get the picture. They DON’T work. I’ve yet to figure out why, but with all three units, one from Sewell Direct, one from Monoprice, and one from B&H Photo, getting a signal on both monitors required a crazy sequence of first plugging in one monitor, then plugging in power to the splitter, then waiting 10-20 seconds and plugging in the second monitor. Occasionally this silly procedure worked, but more often than not it didn’t. Or it would send pink video to one of the two monitors.

I don’t know if there is a problem with the HDMI signal that the 60D sends, if our camera has an issue, or if the splitters are just flaky devices. But I plugged all the splitters into two other consumer HDMI monitors and experienced similarly odd and inconsistent results, so I think it’s just a case of a still emerging protocol that isn’t designed for the fast-paced and demanding environment of professional video shoots. I even received a detailed if comical tutorial from the folks at Sewel Direct (who have great customer service) on the cabling and power-on procedure.

I have recently read that the Magic Lantern firmware (which is free) is now working fairly well with the 60D, but back in the summer when I tried it, it barely worked at all. The latest version is supposed to add on-screen VU meters, headphone monitoring capability (through the A/V jack’s audio out), and an HDMI video output signal without all the standard Canon menus and markings. Why is this important? Because it would allow you to output the uncompressed HDMI signal to a separate digital video recorder and record your video to whatever format, codec and compression desired. This could save a tremendous amount of time in post since you wouldn’t have to convert the complex H.264 files that the 60D records natively. Don’t misunderstand me here, there is nothing wrong with the video quality of Canon’s native files. When shots are properly focused, lit and exposed, they look great. And according to my tests, the files are captured at 44Mb/sec, which compares very favorably to other production quality high definition formats.

But overall, if you’re used to using $30,000 plus cameras designed for professional video, you’ll hate shooting with a DSLR. And if you’re a skilled shooter, you can achieve many if not all of the same shallow depth of field results with clever use of lighting and a long lens setting. About the only time you can’t get the same look is in small rooms or tight quarters. But for my money (and the clients’) I’d rather shoot with a professional video camera any day.

We’ll still use our 60D, but we’ll be getting a new HD camera before the end of the year, most likely the Panasonic AG AF-100, primarily because we’ve shot with Panasonic professional cameras since 2004 and know and understand the menu systems, scene files etc. The AF-100 seems to achieve a nice middle-ground between the conventional DSLR cameras and pro video cameras. Once we’re up to speed with it, we’ll likely use the 60D as a “B” camera on shoots.

I should also point out that we use the 60D for still photography, and for the money, it’s a FABULOUS still camera. In the hands of skilled photographer, the camera can produce truly stunning images. I’m not sure why anyone would pay more for a 5D or 7D when you could get two 60Ds and a couple of additional lenses and in my view sacrifice almost nothing in the way of professional features.

Canon 60D: Final Thoughts Republished by Chris Blair

Posted by: Chris Blair on Nov 27, 2011 at 10:37:21 pm DSLR Video

The Value of Time and Experience in Advertising Design

In the last 25 years the growth of computer technology and the internet have both fundamentally changed how companies market themselves. The early to mid-nineties saw the birth of digital production. Then in the early part of this decade, digital television and the internet matured. And in the last three years, social media came of age.

Obviously this technology has had many positive effects when it comes to marketing and advertising, but in my opinion that same technology has had some negative effects as well. Most prominent is a tendency for people to think that digital workflows are inherently faster and more efficient.

When used properly, digital tools can certainly speed workflow and productivity.  But two things that are still key to selling people anything is developing great ideas and producing compelling stories. Getting these right STILL requires the two things the best digital tools can’t deliver – time and experience. It’s no secret many projects have tighter deadlines and smaller budgets, and while a modest budget and quick turnaround doesn’t automatically doom a project, it certainly hampers the ability to make it stand out. That’s exactly where the value of experience comes in.

Experienced marketing professionals have typically worked on hundreds or even thousands of projects. That vast experience does two things. It gives the marketing professional great depth of knowledge about how to get projects done. And it provides a tapestry of work and ideas from which to draw upon.

Over the last 15 years here at Magnetic Image we’ve produced literally thousands of projects; from videos and print pieces to websites and social media pages. There is no substitute for that experience. When a client comes to us with a project, even if it’s something we’ve never done before, it’s a good bet that some element of that project is similar to past work. That experience does two things. It allows us draw upon our archives for ideas and workflow estimates, and because we’ve almost always done something similar, it speeds workflow.

These two things are at the heart of being a true professional, which in my opinion is any company or individual that is both fast and good. Give a group of designers a week to create something and you’ll usually get some great looking stuff. But how many designers can crank out great designs in a day? Probably not too many. The advantage these designers typically have over their less talented counterparts is experience. Certainly talent and creativity are important too, but I’ll almost always take the designer that is consistently fast and good over the designer that does great work but takes a week to do it. And rarely does the technology they’re using make any difference in the work or how fast they do it.

I see so many companies that opt to hire small, inexperienced firms to design websites or produce videos or manage their social media, and their hiring decision usually came down to being sold on the vendor’s “technology” or their “digital processes.” In this day and age, any marketing company still breathing is using advanced technology and dozens of digital processes…so I’m still amazed that smart executives are swayed by this. But darned if they aren’t. It amounts to snake-oil most of the time. But one thing is still true. The best technology simply cannot hide bad ideas, bad writing and bad storytelling.

If you don’t know what story your company needs to tell; or can’t tell that story in a compelling way; the design and execution of that story is irrelevant, and the digital tools used to produce are equally irrelevant. It’s a cliche, but experience matters. Oh does it matter!

Posted by: Chris Blair on Jul 19, 2011 at 8:26:44 pm Thoughts & Musings

Learning from Dick Ebersol’s Resignation

Dick Ebersol resigned as head of NBC’s sports division on May 19th and just a few days later Joe Posnanski wrote a piece on Ebersol in Sports Illustrated’s May 30th Point After column. What struck me about the article wasn’t anything about Ebersol’s vast list of credits, or any claim about his influence on modern sports or entertainment programming. It was what Ebersol told Posnanski about the most influential thing he ever learned:

“The most important thing to me, was to tell stories.”

Ebersol said it was a lesson he learned from his first boss, the legendary sports producer Roone Arledge. Ebersol told Posnanski that television seems to be turning away from storytelling, with everything  becoming fragmented and announcers making radio calls shouting about every play.

I had to chuckle and agree. I turned 50 this year, and while I can probably pass for 10 years younger (on a good hair day), I can’t help but feel a little old sometimes when discussing content for marketing and promotional projects with many clients. The idea of storytelling seems unimportant to most. Yet I still believe that a good story trumps style and glitzy design every-time. Great production values certainly never hurt a project, but a non-existent or poorly written story can kill one.

Stories engage people. They help people identify with characters, places and events. They can take viewers to a faraway time and place. They inspire, teach, make us laugh or comfort us, sometimes all at the same time. Yet many people have lost the ability to tell stories.

Over the years I’ve met with countless executives who have no idea what their corporate story is. They have no corporate identity, no focus on what they sell or what problem they solve for their customers. Most believe they sell a product or service. But people don’t buy stuff or lists of services. They buy a promise. They buy a feeling. They buy a solution. They want stuff to make their life better…to make them look and feel better or to confirm their status. They want products to make their kids smarter or their dog healthier. The best way to frame those promises is through stories.

Dick Ebersol is without a doubt a polarizing figure in sports programming. Some consider him one of the most influential executives in sports television history. Others believe he simply copied the techniques of his first boss, Roone Arledge. From helping create Saturday Night Live and producing dozens of Olympics telecasts, to choosing not to renew NFL rights in 1998 and creating the ill-conceived XFL, Ebersol certainly had his share of wins and losses in his 22-year NBC programming career. 

But I’m not looking to judge Ebersol or his place in programming history. I simply think that what he said, “the most important thing…was to tell stories…” is something worth repeating in this blog post.

In lamenting the absence of storytelling in most major sports programming today, Ebersol asked Posnanski, “How are we supposed to know what’s important?” Posnanski didn’t answer him. Neither can I. Stories help us understand the world we live in. They help us identify and empathize with people across the street and across the globe. They help us understand where we’ve been, and give us the inspiration to see what’s possible.

Nobody ever taught me that stories are an important tool in marketing, advertising or television production. It’s just something I’ve believed since I was in my 20s. But I’m glad Mr. Posnanski’s article reminded me that there are still executives out there who believe it too. I just hope the next generation of executives don’t forget it.

Posted by: Chris Blair on Jun 20, 2011 at 9:27:25 pm MarketingThoughts & Musings

Canon 60D: Second Look

By Chris Blair

I just completed our first broadcast project using the Canon 60D and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the results. Using the camera is really no different than using any new piece of gear. I was apprehensive about the camera’s reliability and its quality until I got used to the controls and became comfortable with the capabilities (and limitations) of the camera.

Want proof you can do broadcast work with the Canon 60D? Here are two spots shot with the camera for HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital.


Although there are definitely drawbacks to using the Canon 60D in the field, most notably monitoring audio and using multiple monitors for client viewing, the image quality is much better than I expected and there are affordable workarounds that overcome these limitations.

I’ve shot with the 60D several times now and while the first shoot was a little nerve-racking, once we developed a reliable workflow, we’re all confortable that the camera can be considered a “professional tool.” Like any camera though, the quality you get can be directly tied to the experience and knowledge of the camera operator.

The most surprising thing about the camera is that the choice of lens is probably more important than the camera itself. It reminds me of wireless microphones. Wireless transmitters are nothing more than two-way radios and the quality of the audio from a wireless system is often more reliant on the quality of the microphone than it is to the quality of the electronics. Another surprising thing is the dynamic range the camera has. You can easily shoot at 800 or 1600 ISO with little or no noticeable grain in your image. Of course, the lower you can keep the ISO, the better your images look, with no discernable grain at all.

And while I was extremely nervous about the audio limitations of the camera, we’ve recorded long interviews with it with absolutely no issues in audio quality. While it helps that the 60D has manual audio capability built in, the camera’s biggest drawback is sill the lack of a headphone jack. We’ve overcome that by using an ART 2-channel microphone pre-amp with left/right mono out to a Zoom H2 recorder. The H2 has a headphone jack and we then feed the 60D via the 1/8″ line out of the H2. It’s not exactly an elegant solution, but it works. Another solution we’re looking into is some of the new HDMI capable LCD field monitors that have headphone jacks built in. Sony came out with one recently, and Marshall is supposed to be coming out with one as well.

Speaking of LCD monitors, Marshall also recently introduced a 7″ field monitor that has built in HDMI loop-through, which solves the problem of only being able to feed one monitor in the field. Up to this point, you had to use small 1×2 HDMI splitters, which require power and add yet another intermediate device to your setup.

The biggest difference in using a DSLR compared to even a high-end EFP video camera is focusing. And I’m not talking about keeping a shot focused when the camera and subject are stationary, but keeping a shot in focus where either the camera or the subject is moving (or both). It takes practice and a steady hand. Having a follow focus mechanism is also a big help. We currently don’t have one but that’s the next item on my list of accessories.

I’ll post more later about the 60D since we’ll be using it this week to shoot a series of new TV spots for a regional healthcare company. These spots all involve actors and dialogue so we’ll be putting the 60D’s audio to the test yet again. We’re also renting a Manhattan 8.9″ LCD monitor and battery powered 1×2 HDMI splitter so we can use two monitors, one for camera monitoring (our 7″ ToteVision HD monitor) and one for client monitoring (the Manhattan LCD).

Canon 60D: Second Look Republished by Chris Blair

Posted by: Chris Blair on Apr 19, 2011 at 5:39:02 pmComments (3) Production TechniquesVideo Production

Ecwid: A great E-commerce solution

I recently created a client website that needed an easy to use e-commerce solution for selling books, CDs and digital downloads of documents and audio files. On the client’s old website, she was just selling her book and CDs using a very simple PayPal link for processing and payment. It worked, but wasn’t very attractive and offered little more than credit card processing.

I use Wordpress to build client sites so I spent a couple of hours researching and testing various e-commerce plug-ins. There are several out there that are extremely popular but they all seemed unnecessarily complicated to setup and convoluted to use…not to mention buggy.

Then I found Ecwid. It’s not only a Wordpress plug-in, but also a complete e-commerce solution that can be used with literally any web authoring platform. The plugin is simple to install, and it’s hands-down the best Wordpress plugin (of any sort) I’ve ever used. What makes it so good? For starters, it just plain works, which is a nice change from the bulk of Wordpress plug-ins out there, which are typically buggy and offer little or no instructions for use. Ecwid is rock-solid, full-featured and has just about the best documentation, tutorials, and knowledge base of any product I’ve ever used. That’s a tall statement considering I bought my first computer in 1984 and have worked on all the major OS platforms at one time or another. It’s also FREE for store-fronts up to 100 products, with incredibly affordable pricing plans for stores with up to 20,000 products. Other than the product limit, the free version offers virtually the same functionality as the paid versions, minus some security and SEO features. This software is so good, my guess is that many people try the free version and gladly upgrade to the paid one.

Ecwid is powerful enough to be used for some serious e-commerce needs, but also easy enough for a part-time web  programmer like me to figure out with little to no time spent reading the online manual. Interestingly, I almost didn’t even try the software after I first registered to use it.  All the other e-commerce plugins I tried used the Wordpress admin back-end for entering data. Ecwid uses it’s own back-end and is tied to your site through their Wordpress API. I’m not exactly sure if that even correctly explains how it connects to your site, but that’s how I understood it.

So after I installed the plug-in, I had to log into my account from Ecwid’s website to start using it. My first reaction was, “how am I going to maintain the look and feel of my website if I’m setting up my store on a third party interface.” Well…I’m here to tell you, it integrates beautifully with your Wordpress theme. All you do is create one simple page in Wordpress and call it “Online Store,” or any other name for that matter. Then you tell Ecwid to use that page for your storefront. Next you start adding categories and products, complete with mulitple product images, comprehensive descriptions etc. Ecwid is incredibly full-featured, with options for adding tax, scores of payment processing choices and a dizzying array of shipping options that will calculate shipping costs for your clients. The features are too numerous to mention but my sense is this software will work for just about any e-commerce need, including large companies with thousands of products.

The best things about Ecwid are:

  • The back-end admin interface is intuitive and extremely easy to use.

  • The vast, search-able knowledge-base of information available to help when you get stuck.

  • Video tutorials to help you get started.

  • The fact that it just plain works!

  • Its huge feature set.

  • It’s FREE for stores with up to 100 products.

  • Affordable pricing plans for larger stores.

The Ecwid website is also extremely well-written, easy to navigate and explains the technical mumbo-jumbo of how it works in language that I could understand. This fact is amazing considering the company that created Ecwid is based in Russia! Their site is better written that the majority of U.S. based technology websites!

Last, I love the look and feel of their storefronts and category/product layouts. They’re big and bold and cleanly designed, making the end-user’s experience a good one. There is also a tremendous amount of customization available for both the look and function of the store.

For instance, the default layout asks the end-user to sign-in to their account before proceeding to checkout. Like most online stores, Ecwid will keep a database of users’ information to speed their checkout on subsequent visits. Since this particular website only has about 25 products, and it’s unlikely visitors will return over and over, I wanted to turn this feature off completely and remove the sign-in boxes and requests. Plus, the layout and sign-in box confused me when I was doing a test purchase.

Fortunately, none of this is a problem, because with a simple code change, copied and pasted from the great Ecwid knowledge base, I turned off the user sign-in box and then completely turned off all options for client accounts. If at a later date my client wants to allow clients to sign-up, I just remove the code snippets. The Ecwid website walked me through every stage of making these changes. There are also options for changing the look and feel of the store. If you want to make major layout changes, you need to know a little something about CSS and PHP to make that happen. But for an experienced programmer, it would be pretty easy to change how the store looks and behaves.

If you need a great e-commerce solution, you owe it to yourself to give Ecwid a try. It’s truly an impressive system.

Ecwid: A great E-commerce solution Republished by Chris Blair

Posted by: Chris Blair on Mar 23, 2011 at 8:41:07 pm Uncategorized

New Year Marketing Planning

Don’t you just love the New Year? We all have a clean slate with no broken resolutions or abandoned plans. It’s that magical time of year where we all do our marketing plans and set our objectives and everything is still on track. If you’re like most of us, your resolutions are somewhat off track by spring and seriously off the rails by summer.  There are some things we can all do to avoid that.

Once you get buy in on the plans, it’s time to get to work. Don’t put your plans in a drawer and file them away. Keep the objectives and the plan where they can be seen, re-read them often and make sure others do the same. You can review them in your weekly status meeting to check your progress. Try to identify one or two things that can be done each week to get you closer to your goals, and then hold everyone accountable to get them done. Breaking the larger things down into pieces will make them easier to achieve and repeatedly reviewing progress will make it easier to get done.

The first of the year is also a great time to review your processes. Is it easy to get things done in your organization? Take time to go through each process step by step to see what steps can be eliminated or what forms or processes can be done away with altogether to make things less cumbersome. The simpler and cleaner you make things, the easier it will be to keep your team moving forward. 

Finally, realize that you may need to adjust objectives or plans based on market conditions.  What seemed perfect in January may no longer be the right thing for your company in June.  A marketing plan is a working document that should grow and flex with your company.  Recognizing that will save you a lot of headaches and keep you from forcing a direction that may no longer be right for your company. Identifying the pieces that need to be revised and making those changes will help you stay on the right track.

But remember, while planning is important, actions will determine success. The best workout plan in the world won’t help you get in shape all by itself. So let us help you plan for marketing success, then actually put that marketing plan into motion. We regularly spend time reviewing clients’ plans and processes, which helps chart their progress. So take advantage of the momentum a new year brings and get your plans rolling for 2011. If you’re not sure where to begin, give us a call. Helping clients with advertising planning and execution is what we do.

New Year Marketing Planning Republished by Chris Blair

Posted by: Chris Blair on Jan 16, 2011 at 10:03:05 am Marketingadvertisingchangeplanningstategy

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