Homeschool Dropouts Production Notes

A common idea in modern journalism is that for a documentary to be “fair,” its creator must have no biases about the subject in question. Even if this were remotely possible from an ideological standpoint, the filmmaker would still have to know nothing and care nothing about the subject or message of his film until its completion. It is a ridiculous concept.

As many readers know, the Botkin family is extremely pro-home-education, and has been since the early ‘80s, and so when we began work on Homeschool Dropouts in August, we were already familiar with the history and current state of home-education movement.

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Shooting and Posting on the 5DmkII

As I’ve mentioned before, we shot the documentary Homeschool Dropouts on the 5DmkII in August, and posted it during September. It was a great learning experience, since it was our first time shooting video on a dSLR. Below is the worst shot from the project – all of the 5D’s image issues are visible in it. All of them can be avoided in-camera and all but one of them can be repaired in post (not counting the awkward composition).

Above is the final image as it was rendered from After Effects. Firstly, we have repaired the exposure. This was a very early shoot, before we started using the Magic Lantern firmware, and without its live histograms and zebra bars, getting the right exposure was tricky. Even though the camera only saves an 8-bit image, there is lots of room for correction, and since it comes from a 14-bit sensor, there is a surprising amount of latitude recorded.

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Latest Video dSLR News

Several months ago I (and pretty much every other video blogger) talked about what Canon could do to improve their lineup of HD-capable dSLRs from the perspective of video production. Since then, they have added a lot of improvements, some with firmware upgrades, and some in new hardware. Here’s a quick update on where things stand today:

5DmkII – released November 2008
The pioneer. Its full frame sensor provides excellent low light performance and tremendous color reproduction, and a high bitrate MPEG-4 codec preserves a lot of image detail. However, a single processor doesn’t allow full HD out and full HD recording at the same time, making monitoring the camera difficult, and the camera is limited to 30 frames per second only. However, that will change with a firmware release expected early next year which will offer 24p and 25p, and the third-party firmware Magic Lantern enables live histograms, zebras, manual audio control with VU meters, and more.

7DmkI – released September 2009
Shoots 24p, 25p, 30p, and introduces a second processor for shooting additional framerates like 50p and 60p (when in 720p mode). With double the CPU power, it also has better monitoring options, allowing full HD output during recording, but auto-only audio is still a limiting factor. It has a new APS-C sensor which, being quite a bit smaller, has a little less sensitivity than the 5D, but allows the use of cheaper EF-S lenses (and much more expensive S35 cinema lenses). And it’s almost $1000 less than a 5D.

1DmkIV – announced October 2009
Same added processing power and framerate options of the 7D, and probably no real improvements in audio and monitoring, but it does have a brand new APS-H sensor which can see in the dark (not in low light – in the dark), and vastly reduced rolling shutter artifacts. Of course, it will be expensive. And it’s not out yet. But… it can see in the dark and there’s no jello-cam!

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