The Ideal Vlogging Setup?


Very few lenses in the m43 catalogue have impressed me as much as the Leica DG Summilux 12mm f/1.4. First of all, it is exceedingly difficult to design a micro four thirds lens of such parameters; and while there have been several very good wide angle primes designed for the system, none have exactly smashed resolution records. And no matter their actual resolution, I’ve never been able to get satisfyingly crisp images from either the wide end of my Panasonic X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 or my Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/.95. I know they’re capable of delivering detailed shots, it’s just that I’ve never managed to get truly sharp pictures with either of those lenses; while other lenses in my collection, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and Sigma DC DN 30mm f/1.4, have never failed to produce dazzlingly sharp images; the verdict is still out on my Olympus 25mm f/1.2. The Leica now earns its place as one of those lenses that is virtually bulletproof.

It took me months to decide to purchase the Leica 12mm f/1.4 – firstly, because I seldom shoot ultrawide, and secondly, because there has been next to no convincing work online to make me want to drop $1,300 on an unknown quantity. And not a single video I had seen taken with the Leica could persuade me that it was any better than the modestly priced Samyang 12mm f/2, so highly praised in the online community. One thing that held me back from getting the Samyang though is that an aperture of f/2 does not really allow you to play with depth of field on a wide prime, and I prefer autofocus lenses for the kind of work I do, which is street photography and vlogging. So I felt I was taking a huge gamble when I ultimately decided to pull the trigger on the Leica. And now that I own it, I believe 12mm is a perfect focal length for vlogging from home or out on the street with a gimbal: at home, because it gives me more flexibility with lighting and allows me to sit near the microphone; outdoors, because it is light enough to be flown on a single-handed gimbal, and even when holding my arm outstretched, the field of view is able to encompass the top of my head to my shoulders.  And whether mounted on a tripod or shooting handheld, wide open or at f/4-5.6, the Leica has consistently delivered insanely sharp detail. It also produces some very beautiful bokeh. And the build quality of the current lineup of Leica lenses surpasses that of most other micro four thirds lenses. I understand that the lens is expensive, most good glass is; I’m also aware that many reading this already have a wide angle zoom that covers 12mm: but I would still recommend this lens to anyone who wants to realize the full potential of the micro four thirds sensor.

While watching the video, two things stand out: one, that I’m a sexy beast, and two, that this really isn’t a test of the autofocus or of the stabilizer at all. My real reason for sharing this was to demonstrate that, for most purposes, AF-S is good enough for vlogging out on the street. It should also be immediately apparent what a crazy sharp lens the Leica is. I was also pleasantly surprised at the audio from the built-in microphone of the G85, though it’s no substitute for an external microphone. I’m still trying to come to grips with vlogging and walking around my neighborhood with a camera and talking to myself.

And here is a highly entertaining and informative guide to alternative vlogging lenses.

How Safari and Chrome are Damaging Your Colors and a Very Brief Discussion of Skin Tones

I’d been using MPEG Streamclip for years in order to reduce file sizes and upload times, but apparently, that’s not such a great idea.

Original Master File

It came to my attention recently that the videos I’d been converting with MPEG Streamclip and uploading to YouTube have an unmistakably crimson appearance when viewed in Safari.

Converted in MPEG Streamclip, Uploaded to YouTube, Screened in Safari Browser

And when viewed on Google Chrome, they take on a distinctly cherry red look.

Converted in MPEG Streamclip, Uploaded to YouTube, Viewed in Chrome Browser

Uploading the master file directly to YouTube intially seems to mitigate the problem, but does not entirely eliminate it; and after waiting several hours, the color again takes on a crimson hue in both Safari and Chrome. The screen shot below was made right after uploading.

Master File Uploaded Directly to YouTube, Viewed in Safari Browser

On a related note, I’ve been noticing lately that many YouTubers are starting to look a lot like marshmallows: their faces are completely lacking in color, tonality, richness and texture; many of them resemble forty year-old Polaroids. There are several reasons for this: flat lighting, overexposure, poor white balance and lack of sharpness are just some of the culprits.

If we open up the screen grab above from the Cinematography Database in Final Cut Pro, we can see that the highlights in Matt Workman’s face straddle seventy-five percent according to the waveform monitor, which is  a shade too bright.

Likewise in the screen grab below from Dan Watson’s YouTube channel, where the waveform monitor registers a whopping eighty percent for practically his entire face, obliterating any and all detail:

It may be true that what constitutes good skin tone is subjective, but there are some general guidelines we can all probably agree upon: it shouldn’t resemble asparagus, zucchini, or kiwi fruit; it should have a different reflectance and texture from a computer monitor, a tweed jacket or a marble counter top; if a face is in the frame, it should usually be in focus; exposure should generally not go beyond 70% zebras; and color should not deviate wildly from the skin tone line on the vector scope. But rule number one must always be to get it right in camera, not to hope to fix it in post.