Category Archives: Music

Videoing Babajack

Occasionally, rarely, you see a band who are so good you wonder how you could never have heard of them before. BabaJack are one of those. Singer and percussionist Becky Tate has a mesmerizing presence on stage, Trevor Steger on guitar and blues harp sounds and plays like he was born on a delta somewhere. Together and with a hard hitting rhythm section their music has an obviously blues base, the raw kind of blues that I enjoy the most but with elements of folk and, to my ears, something of Africa about it but I couldn’t pin that down.

For some reason they bring to mind one of my favourite bands, Moriarty, a French group who are country with an air of the Berlin cabaret about them. It’s no that they are like one another musically at all but that they bring an air of unexpectedness with them. It’s blues/ country/ folk but not as we know it, Jim! I suppose what I am saying is that they have that rarest of attributes, originality.

The Boom Boom Club in south London, where I go regularly, is promoted by the saintly Pete Feenstra who in my opinion ought to get one of those OBE or CBE things that the government hand out to people who have served the community. Pete’s services to live music in London can’t be over-estimated. This is a guy who turns out to see a show he has promoted on a wet, cold February night, because he genuinely loves the music and the musicians he promotes. If Pete was getting fat banker’s bonuses for his efforts, I don’t think there’s a music fan in London who would object.

To photography. Where video is concerned, I am low down the learning curve. After much messing about I just shoot Full High Definition (FHD 1920×1080) video at 25 frame per second with a shutter speed of 1/50th second. The lighting level at the club is pretty low and the lighting itself basic and luridly coloured.

For stills, ISO 1600 and 125th at f2.8 are the order of the day as with this shot, so that gives an idea of the lighting.
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For this video, I used the 35-100 f2.8 Panasonic zoom on my GX7. I used the GX7 rather than my GH3 because it has focus peaking and if the subject moves around a lot (and I don’t know this band and how they move), I like the aid given by the peaking. I’ve tried continuous autofocus but it gives those spasms of racking backwards and forwards and look thoroughly amateur. I’m hoping that the GH4 improves on that with its DFD (depth from defocus) information.

So, here I’m using manual focus, setting focus on Becky Tate and then moving across to Trevor on guitar and leaving focus where it is. For myself, I prefer a slightly off focus image to that awful racking in and out.

One thing to note here, I am not a young man and have somewhat shaky hands (thank you, English beer and French wine). The stabilization disguises that to an amazing degree and makes a tripod almost unnecessary. Having said that, I’d much prefer a tripod mounted camera but the denizens of blues clubs might find that a little annoying.

The trade off that I see here is between my 14-140mm zoom and the 12-35/ 35-100 combo. I am watching a band playing a song and videoing it all the way though. If I have to swap lenses, all continuity is lost. I am pretty sure that in the future I will use the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 for my music videos. When lens changes are a no-no, it’s the go-to lens. I’m entirely happy to use it at full aperture since its good performance is not greatly enhanced by stopping down.

This lead me to a disturbing thought. When I go though my stuff on LightRoom, a disproportional number of shots are made on the 14-140mm. Do I need another lens? Could I do everything I want with just this lens? Ditch my f2.8 zooms? My fast primes? Probably but occasionally not. Could I live with just the 14-140mm? My disturbing thought returns. I probably could.

Boiling it down, I probably could but I don’t have to. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Skinny Molly and the Video Kid.

Here’s Skinny Molly playing ‘Too Much’. It’s at my usual blues club, the Boom Boom in Sutton, south London. Skinny Molly are from Nashville and they play the kind of tight, hard-hitting and exciting southern rock that you’d hope for from such an outfit. If they are around your way, don’t miss them. The audience at the Boom Boom is never slow to show their appreciation of good music but they went pretty wild listening to Skinny Molly. Here’s a band that really know how to work the audience to best effect, playing great music and seeming to have just as good a time as the audience while doing it. It’s infectious!

The video is shot on my Panasonic GX7, this time on the 12-35mm f2.8 zoom, rather than the 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 zoom I used for Ryan McGarvey. I was standing about 3 metres from the stage so the wide shots are right down to 12mm. I avoid zooming as much as possible but it is inevitable when you are so close to the stage and the band move around. The 35mm end zoomed me in to nice close-ups on Mike Estes with plenty of leeway for when guitarist Jay Johnson and bass player Luke Bradshaw move in together.

In the close to the stage situation I was in, the necessity to focus and re-focus rears its ugly head. I hate having to focus in video because when you muff it, it shows. In stills, you can at least discard the fuzzies! I’m learning a bit about video, especially the technical problems it throw at you. The main problem is, no second chances. If you want to video one song, you have to get it right first time. The band won’t be playing it again and you can’t stop to make adjustments.

The first thing I’ve learnt is the 180 degree shutter. I shoot at 25fps and I am advised to use a shutter speed of double my frame rate. I find that the advice is good, 1/50th does give natural looking movement at 25fps. I use shutter priority and auto ISO but I intend to experiment with manual exposure, just setting the camera at the beginning of the shot and keeping it the same all the way through. Obviously this would be ridiculous with stills since the light across the stage and during songs varies so much but it may make for a more natural rendering in video. Having said that, the GX7 has coped with lighting changes in this video seamlessly so maybe auto is best. I’ll be interested to find out.

Where focusing is concerned, I used, for the first time in serious use the peaking facility. It is brilliant! Shooting HD 1080p, on a big screen focusing errors really do show up. The peaking gives you nice confirmation that you are not off focus as much as on. Without an aid, it is very difficult to check focus accuracy and using the picture in picture magnified image is too off-putting in live shooting. Peaking fills the gap nicely. Before using it, I wondered what all the clamour about it was but I do understand now. In stills shooting, I find it both less precise and slower than the magnified picture in picture.

The other bugbear for music video is sound. The GX7 doesn’t have a microphone input. It does have sound level adjustment for the inbuilt mic, though. I set it to the lowest level here, the next level up showed the red overload boxes occasionally and it has given good levels without distortion. When you take into account the loudness of Skinny Molly and the fact that I was maybe 2.5 metres from one of the PA speakers, it’s a miracle.

The in-lens stabilization of the 12-35 is very obviously just as effective as the new 14-140’s which i praised recently. I am not young, my hands were not particularly steady when I was and I like a drink or even two 🙂 When I shot this video, I had been standing for over an hour. Amazing.

One last thing, I can never seem to learn which way to turn the focus ring to go from near to far and vice versa. Maybe I’m dumb but it’s a problem for me. You can see that I’ve gone out of focus a couple of times in this video. Then I remembered the MF (Manual Focus) Guide on the Custom menu, page 4. With that on you have no excuse for turning the ring the wrong way.

And another last thing. I thought I’d use my GH3 for the my next blues club shoot and try an external microphone. But my flagship camera doesn’t have focus peaking. There’s always something, isn’t there?

GX7 Blues

I took my new GX7 along to a blues gig in south London just for the fun of using it. The camera is such an effective tool, small enough to take everywhere and customizable to the extent that I can just put it to my eye and know what it will do.

I’ve never been happy with shooting video and sighting through a rear camera monitor. My hand are too shaky and the stance required is too uncomfortable for holding for long.

Here’s a video I shot of a brilliant young blues player from New Mexico, Ryan McGarvey. The lighting at the Boom Boom Club is awful for photographic purposes. Multi-coloured and low level so that you need 3200 ISO for stills.

The noise levels on the GX7 are low enough that at 3200 I don’t feel the need for using noise reduction at all. I never minded a bit of grain on my film shots of The Who, Bob Dylan, AC/DC et all and I prefer a bit of digital noise to compromised detail.

Here is  a still of Ryan playing. The first version is a straight jpg from the RAW file, the second with mild tweaks to the contrast and colour temperature in Lightroom. There’s no way for auto-colour temperature to deal with lighting like this because the lighting is meant to be red and ‘correcting’ the red would give a bizarre result. The camera just does its best. That’s the beauty of the RAW file, whatever was on the sensor is in your image file so the colour temperature is a matter for your taste, there being no objective ‘correct’.

For me the out of the camera appearance is unpleasant, too flatly red even though it is a reasonable reproduction of what my eye saw. So I try to make the colours a little more acceptable without losing the flavour of them or the atmosphere of the gig.

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But what really knocked me out was the stabilization of the 14-140mm zoom in movie mode. The image through the GX7 was rock steady even though I was hand holding the camera. Incidentally, the GX7/ 14-140  is a good size and weight for movies. The older 14-140 f4.-f5.8 was quite a weight to be held up and steady for three or more minutes. This new, lighter one, is perfect, not too light, not too heavy. And the little bit of extra speed all helps under lighting circumstances like this.

This is shot at my customary 1280xx720 25p at 10mbps quality with shutter priority at 1/ 50th second. It seems to work well for YouTube and doesn’t look too dusty on my TV, either. A rather silly omission on the camera is an external mic input. This is recorded through the built in mic – it’s very good but can never match a ‘proper’ mic.

So, ladies and gentlemen, give it up for RYYYYaan McGarvey playing Texas Special with Justin McLaughlin on bass and Logan Miles Nix on drums.

And I thought I could play guitar 🙁