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December 14, 2009

Table of Contents

In the Field: Kessler Crane KC–8 and KC–Lite
Blackmagic Design Updates Videohub Software with a New Interface and SDK
AJA Releases Free iPhone App for Video Professionals
New Webinar Coaching Series: Sales & Marketing 101: What Most Videographers Don't Know About Making Money
AJA Video Systems to Present at January 5 SLFCPUG Meeting

In the Field: Kessler Crane KC–8 and KC–Lite

Can a lite product ever be as good as the full version? The name itself implies that something is missing. With foods it's often calories, fat, portion size, and-most importantly-taste. Will the same hold true for Kessler's new lite version of its flagship KC-8 Basic crane, the KC-Lite 8.0? Will it share enough in common with its full version, or will it appeal only to those who can't afford the extra cost of the full version, much like a diabetic can't afford sweets? Read on. I think you might be surprised with the results—I know I was.

Eric Kessler started Kessler Crane 7 years ago after a friend asked him to build a crane. He already had a machine shop, the result of a previous business manufacturing paintball accessories, and his one-off venture turned into a full-time business selling cranes online through eBay, craigslist, and eventually through the website www.kesslercrane.com. You may have heard about Kessler cranes from online forums-that's how I did-as it's the darling of several forums, which Eric still monitors as he's constantly improving his products. While still a relatively small company, Kessler Crane has been steadily improving on its original 8' crane with constant upgrades in materials, design, and especially add-on accessories, all manufactured by Kessler, which (unlike the add-ons offered by some competitors) means they're built to be used on a crane.

Cranes have always been a favorite tool of mine to raise the production value of my work and to differentiate myself from the competition. They're used all the time in the movie industry, and the multiaxis and floating motion that a crane allows can create some really dramatic and beautiful shots. I should know; I attribute much of my 2008 WEVA Creative Excellence Award to the beautiful crane shots I was able to incorporate in a traditional dance recital performance to take it to a completely new level. (See the CEA winner below.)

Essence of Dance - "The Moment I Said It" from Shawn Lam on Vimeo.

The Lighter Side
For this review I decided to compare the new KC-Lite model and the flagship KC-8 model. I took possession of the KC-Lite model first, as I thought it was more fair to test it on its own merits before comparing it to the full version. Table 1 shows a breakdown of the differences between the KC-8 and KC-Lite models.

# of
in Bag
Cost for
Crane Only
Cost With
Tripod & Dolly
Max Camera
KC-Lite 8.0Single17 lbs.1.5 cubic feet$349.95$499.9510 lbs.
KC-8 BasicDouble23 lbs.3.76 cubic feet$499.95$1,199.9525 lbs

Cranes are big. Both models extend 8' when assembled and split into two equal 4' sections. The KC-8 weighs 23 lbs., while the KC-Lite is 25% lighter at 17 lbs. and, in its case, takes up 60% less volume. Instead of having the KC-Lite (below) shipped to my office in Vancouver, British Columbia, I had it shipped directly to Valencia, Calif., the first location in a multilocation shoot. The plan was that I would fetch it at my hotel hours before my shoot, giving me ample time to practice with it. From there I would fly with it the next morning to my second location in Denver before shipping it by courier to Orlando, Fla., to use 2 days later on the EventDV-TV series, The WEVA Show with Shawn Lam.

Kessler KC-Lite

Unfortunately, my flight out of Vancouver was delayed, and I missed my connecting flight in San Francisco to Burbank, Calif. So my client and I flew to LAX instead, waited a few hours for our luggage (which was still tagged for Burbank) to be found, and drove the rest of the way to Valencia. Instead of having a few hours to test the KC-Lite before the shoot, I only had 10 minutes in my hotel room before we rushed to Wal-mart to pick up the 20 lbs. of counterweight that were required to balance my Sony HVR-Z7U.

Despite having limited testing time, I was able to slide into my shoot with the KC-Lite and perform like I was a seasoned crane operator (see my first KC-Lite-assisted project, a promo spot for NICK-N-WILLYS Pizza, below). This is a testament to how easy the KC-Lite is to assemble and to operate.

NICK-N-WILLYS Pizza - Franchise Recruitment Video HD version from Shawn Lam on Vimeo.

I've used several crane models over the years in a variety of shoots, and what all of them had in common was that they all used cables to control the tilt of the camera on the end of the crane. This setup always took additional time and a helper, as there were more parts involved and the assembly was more finicky. The KC-Lite departs from this traditional design. The tilt is controlled using the panhandle on your tripod, a motion that requires no learning curve since it is the same as what any camera operator normally does with his or her camera on a tripod.

What makes the KC-Lite so easy to assemble is that there aren't a ton of parts, and the assembly is toolless. Two single-rail crane sections get connected with two connecting couplers that are screwed on with threaded knobs. The crane mounts straight onto a tripod head using a tripod plate-I used a supplied Davis & Sanford 7518B tripod and FM18 head-and the counterweights then slide on the weight bar and are secured with a toolless quick-collar.

The really nice thing about the KC-Lite design is that you don't need to maintain a bag of parts, as the knobs go back on the two couplers, and everything else (other than the weights) is still attached to the two crane sections. I truly appreciate the simplicity of having to inventory only four parts, as earlier this year I rented a crane only to discover on-location that there were missing parts. This would not have happened with the KC-Lite.

Operating the KC-Lite crane came very naturally to me. You can crane up, down, left, and right, articulating around the tripod head by moving the crane with your left hand. The tilt on the camera is controlled by your right hand on the tripod pan handle, and this motion is independent from the crane action, which is significant—more on that later.

The camera's tilt can also be locked to a fixed angle or set to autolevel mode by locking or releasing the linked tilt on the tripod head. Being a single-rail design, the crane is more prone to side-to-side sway, but I found it most prevalent when I was holding or preparing for a shot rather than when the crane was actually in motion. As a result, it was not as big of an issue as I thought it would be. I was also fortunate that there was no wind when I was taking my outdoor shots, as wind has potential to add additional sway.

Even with the 17 lb. KC-Lite model, equipped with counterweights, crane, and camera, the tripod was supporting 45 lbs., and I found that I needed dolly wheels in order to move the crane anywhere on my own, even for minor adjustments. Although my review model didn't include a dolly, at the time of this writing, Kessler was running a promotion that included a Davis & Sanford W3 Dolly with its KC-Lite 8.0 Complete system. Check www.kesslercrane.com for current pricing and promotion details.

My only knock against the KC-Lite kit is that in my tests the D&S tripod didn't perform well under weight. The FM18 was up to the task, but the quick-release clamps on the dual-stage tripod legs (below) did slip when the crane was rolled on uneven ground, such as the slightly raised threshold between the trade-show floor and the carpeted hall at a convention center. I tried tightening the clamps. This helped, but past experience with similar quick-release tripod clamps tells me that they'll just work themselves loose, and I much prefer tripods that use more secure flip levers or rotary clamps.

quick-release clamp

Fortunately, one of the best features of the KC-Lite is that it can be used with most prosumer-grade fluid-head tripods, so event videographers may not even need to purchase dedicated tripods for their cranes. I still prefer to dedicate a tripod for my crane and plan on matching the FM18 head with a new set of tripod legs that are better suited for the weight of a crane.

So the only thing that is missing from the KC-Lite is an LCD monitor mount and a pan control for the head. I plan on solving this by attaching my Sony 8" portable DVD player with video input that I use as a monitor  with a combination of a superclamp and some Velcro, and by installing the Bescor MP-101 Motorized Pan Head that I picked up at WEVA Expo 2008, which has been sitting in a box waiting for an application.

How Does the KC-8 Compare?
The KC-8 Ultra Plus kit is a heavier dual-rail design that is overbuilt for an 8' crane so as to be upgradeable to 18' with add-on extensions and to support an operator seat and push/pull handle for use on a track dolly. To operate it as a simple 8' crane requires a different stance.

Whereas on the KC-Lite (below, left) you can stand to the right of the single rail and still control the pan handle, on the KC-8 (below, right) the pan handle is surrounded by the dual-rail frame, and the camera tilt control is replaced by a tilt control lever with a handle.

Kessler KC-Lite (left), Kessler KC-8 (right)

Unfortunately, the tilt lever is mounted on the crane itself, so tilting while craning up or down is much more difficult than on the KC-Lite, where the pan handle motion is independent from the motion of the crane. What happens with a linked tilt control rod is that as the crane moves, so does the handle and the corresponding angle at which you need to push or pull. This makes getting smooth tilts when craning much more difficult, much like shooting clay targets is much more difficult than shooting a target at the end of a firing range. Although my heaviest camera is only 7 lbs., I'm told that with heavier shouldermount broadcast cameras, crane operators don't usually manually control the tilt anyway, and they equip their cranes with motorized pan-and-tilt controls. So this issue is really one that affects only event videographers with lighter, camcorder-style video cameras and their video-enabled DSLR cousins.

Camera weight is not the only weight measure to factor in. On my recent travels I was able to pack both the KC-Lite and a tripod in a single box and check them as a single piece of luggage. Although I packed the weights in my suitcase, I actually could have put them in with the crane and still been under the 50 lb. limit for checked baggage. This would not have been possible with the KC-8. Although the crane weighs only 6 lbs. more than its KC-Lite cousin, the big difference is the K-Pod system tripod and the Hercules 2.0 head, which are sturdy enough to handle 500 lbs. and 150 lbs., respectively.

KC-8 on dolly wheels, weighing > 90 lbs.

Unfortunately this extra capacity comes at a cost-extra weight. With the supplied caster wheels that screw into the bottom of the K-Pod, the cases, and the 20 lbs. of counterweight, my KC-8 Ultra Plus review unit weighs in at slightly more than 90 lbs. So the KC-8 is great for studio applications, for use with heavier cameras, and to accessorize with dolly track wheels and an operator seat, but it is not my first pick for on-location event shooting.

Make Mine a Lite
In the end, I have to conclude that there's nothing lite about the performance of the KC-Lite. As a simple 8' crane, it even outperforms the more expensive and heavier KC-8 in terms of portability and tilt-control ease of use. With a complete kit costing less than $550, it will pay for itself on your first shoot and is destined to have a positive impact on both the production value you are able to offer and-most importantly-your video business profits.

Shawn Lam (video@shawnlam.ca) runs Shawn Lam Video, a Vancouver video production studio. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production and has presented seminars at WEVA Expo 2005–9 and the 4EVER Group’s Video 07. He won a Silver Creative Excellence Award at WEVA Expo 2008 and an Emerald Artistic Achievement Award at Video 08.

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Blackmagic Design Updates Videohub Software with a New Interface and SDK

Blackmagic Design Inc today announced a major new update for all it's Videohub SDI routers. This new Videohub 4.2 software update features a new updated design, new multipage view, more equipment icons, and a software development kit to let any developer write custom software for Videohub routers.

Blackmagic Design customers who enjoy the powerful broadcast quality of Videohub routers, will love the new updated design of the Videohub user interface with its new elegant look and feel. The new software update also introduces a new multipage view where users can swap whole pages of buttons for a massive 550 sources and 110 destinations. The new Multipage feature makes it even easier to have many more buttons for sources and destinations.

The new buttons view now has more icon types to represent common post production equipment. Another common request from developers, system integrators and broadcasters has been to allow custom programming for all Videohub routers. This new software update introduces an easy to use Software Developer Kit (SDK) so custom programming for all Blackmagic Videohub routers is now extremely easy. This new SDK is free of charge and includes full documentation.

By using the new SDK, any developer can now easily add extra protocol support for integration into other large routing infrastructures. In addition to system integrators who are building custom video systems, it's now possible to design custom interfaces, web interfaces, or interfaces to custom hardware with all Videohub routers. Blackmagic Design's new Videohub SDK supports industry standard C++ and includes all libraries and software sample code.

"Both creative and engineering customers can now have the freedom to use the Videohub software, or write their own customized control software to suit their workflows," said Grant Petty, CEO, Blackmagic Design. "With this update, I think Videohub is the easiest to use SDI routers for broadcasters and post houses."

Availability and Price
This new Videohub software update and Videohub SDK are available now for download from the Blackmagic Design website at http://www.blackmagic-design.com/support/

About Blackmagic Design
Blackmagic Design creates the world's most advanced video editing products, color correctors, film restoration software, video converters, routers and waveform monitors for the feature film, post-production and broadcast industries. Blackmagic Design's, DeckLink, Mini Converters, Videohub and UltraScope waveform products revolutionize the television industry by making advanced post production tools affordable to thousands of creative professionals. Blackmagic Design's DaVinci EmmyTM award winning color correction products continue to dominate and lead the industry with ground breaking innovations including stereoscopic 3D and 4K workflows. Blackmagic Design has offices in the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore and Australia. http://www.blackmagic-design.com

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AJA Releases Free iPhone App for Video Professionals

AJA Video Systems, a leading manufacturer of professional video interface and conversion solutions, announced today the release of AJA DataCalc.

AJA DataCalc is a free storage requirement calculator designed for video professionals and is available now as a free download from the Apple iTunes Store.

Designed as a fast and simple tool for audio and video professionals, AJA DataCalc can be used in the field during acquisition, or in the edit bay during post-production, allowing the user to effortlessly calculate their storage consumption and data capturing requirements.

"We're all big fans of the iPhone and wanted to create an application that would be useful to our customers in professional digital content creation," said Nick Rashby, President, AJA Video Systems. "DataCalc is right in line with AJA's product philosophy which aims to deliver products that simplify and streamline the often complex workflows of video professionals. It's a simple little application, that has already proven to be very handy in the field!"

AJA DataCalc supports a wide array of video compression formats such as Apple ProRes, DVCProHD, HDV, XDCAM, DV, RGB and YUV Uncompressed and more. Video standards supported include NTSC, PAL, 1080i, 1080p. 720p, 2K and 4K.

The application features an intuitive user interface where most settings can be entered with a simple finger scroll through lists of the most common file format configurations. Durations can be entered in units of days, hours, seconds or even in a precise time code frame count. A ‘More' button allows the user to further select and specify frame rates, frame sizes, compression type; or in the case of audio: sample rates and bits per sample. From the ‘More' page, press on the ‘Information' icon to get to a ‘Summary' page to review results and have the option to deliver the data via email.

About AJA Video Systems, Inc.
Since 1993, AJA Video has been a leading manufacturer of high-quality and cost-effective digital video interface, conversion and Desktop solutions supporting the professional broadcast and post- production markets. With headquarters in Grass Valley, California, AJA maintains an extensive sales channel of dealers and systems integrators around the world. For further information, please see our website http://www.aja.com.

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New Webinar Coaching Series: Sales & Marketing 101: What Most Videographers Don't Know About Making Money

Video Business Coach Matt Davis, along with special guest Steve Moses, presents a new opportunity for those struggling with sales in event video:

Sales & Marketing 101: What Most Videographers Don't Know About Making Money
With Coach Matt Davis and Special Guest Steve Moses

January 27th - February 10th - February 24th - March 10th, 2010

"A great coach can help you see things that you can't see in yourself" -Mike Ditka



By now you know that I will be offering a coaching series at the beginning of the year focusing on how to improve your sales and marketing techniques. If you don't have confidence when the phone rings to sell to a client, this webinar is for you. I'm providing a unique industry opportunity. While most film professionals are working to better their shooting or editing skills alone, I'm going to focus on the most necessary part of your business, the ability to make sales.

The series, Sales & Marketing 101, will offer insider information I have collected over the years building my business from just my wife and I to a full studio. How did I do it? I made a discussion one day that I didn't want to just be an independent contractor but rather a business owner. I knew how to shoot and edit videos but didn't have a clue of how to run and maintain a company. Over the years I've had several coaches that helped me get to where I am today. Now I am taking that knowledge and providing a systematic industry learning experience. Take the guesswork out of the equation and start 2010 off right!

Sign up today and don't miss out!

What's the cost?

$349.00 (Regularly $495.00) Special Promotional Price if booked before December 18th.

We don't want anyone to miss this opportunity, so we have made it easy for you to attend by having an option to break down your payment into 1/3rds. 3 payments of $117.00.

Click here to sign up

In addition to my coaching series, I also have hourly consultations available. If you have a few questions regarding a marketing technique, editing skill or time management system this may be a good fit for you.

Call our studio (910.632.9559) for more details and hourly rates.

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AJA Video Systems to Present at January 5 SLFCPUG Meeting

Manny Rosado and Dan Wingard from AJA Video Systems will demonstrate the Ki Pro; it's the tapeless workflow, and how to eliminate the cost and inconvenience of logging and capturing footage. The AJA Ki Pro is a tapeless video recording device that produces Apple ProRes 422 QuickTime files which are ready for immediate use within Final Cut Studio. Simply connect the media to a host computer and begin editing. Unify SD, 720 and 1080 cameras and formats with one superior 10-bit full-raster codec-Apple ProRes 422. Because it features SD/HD-SDI, HDMI, and analog inputs, you can interface with virtually any type of camera you might own or rent. Ki Pro features cross-conversion so you can have a 720p camera produce a 1080i recording to match your other camera... or vice versa. And if you've got high-quality SD cameras, Ki Pro can even help you extend their use since it also up-converts SD camera signals to HD recordings. No more digitizing, No more worrying about which camera to use, High-quality ready-to-edit video.

They will also be on hand to answer your questions about any of the AJA Video Systems product line

For more information see our web site.

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