Hi everyone,

I have just discovered this forum- what a great mine of information it is!!

I wonder if any of you would be able to give me some advice. I am doing a whiteboard animation that needs to look professional (its for someone else), so have been spending quite a bit of time (trying to) set up a good set to film on. So far I have a small whiteboard which is laying flat, with a tripod (camera reverse attached in lieu of a copy stand), and lights (2 halogen, one regular).

My camera is a Canon 400D, with a stock lens (I think 18-55mm). My main worry (apart from getting the lighting right) is the quality of the shots I will get with my camera. The test ones I have done have been ok, but not as crisp as I would like. I am wondering if getting another lens will help improve the shots (I feel like the lens is not that great!), or is it the camera (which is getting on a bit in age)?

My main question is, if I was to get another lens for my camera, what size lens would be best for shooting a whiteboard? Would it be best to go with a standard 50mm lens? The whiteboard surface itself is 65 cm away from the camera body.

I have an old manual focus Olympus OM 35mm and 135mm lens, which I have just ordered a mount adapter for, and am hoping the 35 mm might work in this case. After reading some posts on here, I think I will also buy some extension tubes so I can make the lens do better close-ups?  Would someone be able to tell me if I am on the right track with this?

Or alternatively, should I see if I can quickly upgrade my camera?

Would really appreciate any advice!

Thanks very much,

Emma

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I would expect the kit lenses to be fairly average, not terrible but not equal to their best lenses.  The main reason I avoid the kit lenses for animation is the likelihood of flicker.  They don't have an aperture ring, so the f-stop has to be controlled by the camera electronically.  I always set the aperture on the lens, and partly unscrew it (if it's a Nikon lens on a Nikon body) or use the Nikon -to-EOS adapter on a Canon which also isolates it, and stops it from opening up between shots. That means the camera has no ability to change the aperture, or focus on the lens, so it stays put.

The 35mm OM lens should be pretty good - is it a genuine Olympus Zuiko lens?  There are good 3rd party lenses and not so good ones.  Anyway, trying the adapter and OM lens first, before changing the camera, sounds like a good plan.

I don't have that particular lens, so I don't know it's minimum focal distance.  I occasionally use an Olympus 35-70 zoom on my Canon 40d or 7d and I'm happy with that, but I haven't done any serious tests for focus with it to see how many lines on a chart it can distinguish.    Close-up rings come in sets, and probably you will only want to use the thinnest one.  They can be Canon mount rings and go between the camera and adapter, or Olympus mount rings and go between the adapter and lens.  My preferred lens for close-ups is a Nikkor 55mm Micro - Nikon's name for macro - which can easily focus up close without a closeup ring being needed.

With a whiteboard, why set it up for laying flat and shooting down?  If you put it on the wall, you could move your tripod any distance from it that you like.  

When I set up a 2-camera shot with my 40d and a friend's 600d, I thought the newer camera's images had a slightly sharper look, and it wasn't the lenses, we were using my Nikon lenses on both.  The 40d has the same 10 megapixel sensor as the 400d.  I guess the higher resolution could be part of it, but it might be just because it was a later sensor.  I might also be influenced by slightly cooler colours on the later camera.  The 7d I got after that matches the 600d, and both have the 18 MP sensor. 

If there is a very slight softness, I would shoot full size, then scale the images down to HD, which would remove most of it.  Also check the settings, there are different picture styles or modes, some may be a little softer.   Looking at DP Review's writeup on the 400d, there are custom image parameters for Sharpness 0 to 7, and Contrast -4 to +4.  I would probably not want to apply sharpening in the camera, saving that for post production and then very sparingly, applied to the full size image before shrinking it.

I don't see anything in the 400d review about Live View - that is the one thing that would lead me towards replacing it with a later model for animation, if it doesn't have it.

Hi StopmoNick- thanks for your really helpful reply! Yes the lens I have is a Olympus Zuiko lens f2.8. Its actually from my dads manual Olympus kit :) I'm looking forward to trying it out, I've ordered the adapter and fingers crossed it arrives tomorrow!

Thats a good suggestion about the whiteboard. The reason I put it down flat was because I'm going to be doing a lot of drawing and I find it easier to draw flat than on a vertical, but  I will try out the other option tomorrow, as it might also be easier to light.

Thanks also for your tips on changing the camera settings- I will try upping the image size and playing around with the settings a bit more. The camera doesn't have live view, which is one of the reasons I'd like to upgrade eventually, but I've figured that for this sort of animation, where there won't be much of a need for options like onion-skinning, it will hopefully be ok. Also, I'm just using the EOS Utility with the camera tethered to capture the images, then editing in lightroom and putting together the film in premiere pro- so am not currently using one of the stopmo programs.

I have another question regarding the 50mm lens. If I got a 50mm manual Nikon lens and added a extension tube of equivalent width to 5mm, would that essentially be the same thing as using a 55mm macro lens? 

I am currently looking at this lens- do you think it would be a good 50mm to start with? 

http://www.trademe.co.nz/electronics-photography/film-cameras/vinta...

thanks so much for your help!

emma

When trying to work out what image size you need remember that a screen output with be 72dpi, and that high res is 1080 pixels high, so as long as the image you are using is at least 1080 pixels then your image feed will be in high res, if you want to crop the image you'll need more pixels.

      One thing you might need to consider when shooting directly on to a board is if you can see the edges of it, check to see if the lens is distorting the shape of the board. Make sure the camera is directly centred on the board so that all lines are as balanced as possible, and if the lens is bending any of your lines a piece of software like Lightroom will be able to straighten them up and then you can click the sync process button and it'll add your changes to each frame. 

What animation software are you planning on using?  Like Nick already said the 400d doesn't have live view, you would need 450d or above.  You should be able to get 450d pretty cheap second hand, maybe for around £100. 

Also make sure your white balance isn't set to manual. It can be pretty difficult to keep your whites white depending on the kind of lights you're using, so try a few different white balance settings first.

Good luck!

Thanks Anthony and Steve for your great tips- I really appreciate it!

I have just come back from the local camera shop where I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my camera to a good condition second-hand EOS 7D (mk1). I decided to just do it, as its something I've been saving for a while (to use for general photography as well) and especially as this is quite an important freelance job, I figured it was a good reason to upgrade I'm pretty excited to try it out!

I also got the Olympus to EOS lens adapter this morning, and had a quick try with the 400D and the Olympus Zuiko 35mm, and it seems to be working really well! I now just have to re-jig the whole set-up to get the image right again haha. Funnily enough I'm finding it easier to have the aperture ring on the lens when doing the manual adjustments than with everything in auto, so that's pretty cool. The lens definitely feels and sounds much better quality than my 18-55mm stock lens! Once I've recovered from today's purchase I will be on the hunt for more manual lenses

Thanks Anthony- the screen resolution info is a good point. Do any of you shoot in RAW mode, or just jpegs at a larger size than HD video?

I hadn't thought of lens distortion of the board- thanks so much for the tip! I'll have to check that as well :)

Thanks Steve- I was planning on just capturing the images with the EOS UTility, then running them through lightroom to apply edits and assembling the animation in Premiere Pro (like in this tutorial: http://craigbaldwin.com/blog/2009/04/making-stop-motion-animation-a... )

I mainly decided on this approach because there is no live view on the 400D, and I couldn't get it to work with Stopmotion Pro Eclipse- but now with the 7d I guess I can do whatever I want!

Is there any advantage to using a dedicated software like stopmotion pro/dragonframe, apart from having onion-skinning mode, and the ability to play through your animation as you are working on it?

Thanks for all your help guys!

emma

Hey, sounds like everything is working out really well for you! You asked about using RAW images - I use them in my workflow, and if you're interested I've made a video (Link) detailing how I process them using Lightroom and then assemble them into a video file using Quicktime Pro (both very inexpensive but extremely useful programs). 

It just so happens I have ANOTHER video dealing with your other question. Well, it's a thread actually, featuring a video - I demo how to properly use a framegrabber in the video and the first post in the thread is a writeup about the process. Here it is (link).

The reason I'm directing you to the thread rather than just try to answer here is that seeing is believing. Since you mentioned onionskin, I'm guessing you don't know about using step to live, which is actually much better than onionskin. Trust me - I started off using onionskin, and when I found out about this other way it turned out to be like night and day. 

In your case though I suppose it depends on what you're doing with the whiteboard. If it's intended to move smoothly like animation, then I would say you definitely should get a good framegrabber program and use it. But if it's more about things appearing and disappearing or something else (I'm sure there are several options that don't require smooth animation) then I guess you don't need it. 

The benefit of using a framegrabber like DragonFrame, Stopmotion Pro, or the one you are using, is that you see what you are doing, while you are doing it.  You can play back the preview in real time and see how the speed looks.  That helps a lot when you are starting and haven't developed a sense of how big a move you need to get a certain speed. You can click back to the last few frames taken, and forward back to the live view (what Strider called step-to-live) and see how much you have actually  moved the puppet and how that compares with the previous moves.  If you were erasing a line on a whiteboard and drawing a new one, you would see how the new line compares to the previous ones.  You can also look at the full size high res images, which you could do anyway, just to check lighting and focus, but it's getting that immediate feedback on how the animation moves that really helps you learn so much faster.  (I started animating on film in the olden days, waiting to finish a roll of film and then getting it processed.   So by the time I saw that my animation was way too fast and jerky, I didn't remember how much I had moved things.)

I use step-to-live, as with small subtle moves, onionskinning is actually just confusing, you see two very similar images blended together, they just look blurry.  I use the left and right arrows on the keyboard to go back and forth.

The framegrabber will save the high quality (Raw or Fine JPG_ images to a folder, and the video preview images to another folder.  You can then import the Image Sequence of all the numbered images in that folder to After Effects, TV Paint, Premiere Pro, or whatever.  If you take Raw images I think most will also save a full size Jpg for reference as well, in a different folder.

The 7d is a mid-range camera, built more solidly than the entry level 400 or 600d, and will take more photos before the shutter starts to wear out.  It is what I am using now, and it's what another animator used in her studio for a film I animated on, so I already knew it was good.  It also does pretty reasonable HD video, which was not a big issue for me but it's handy.

If you were planning on processing each image through something like camera RAW or Lightroom then you could shoot in RAW, but each RAW image from my 5Dii is 25mb so if you are shooting at 25fps it's going to be enormous, and you'll have to convert them to jpeg(about 5mb)/tiff (around 70mb) for something that will need to be scaled down to 72dpi and 1080 pixels tall, so I don't see much point to doing that.  

I process my films on a shot-by-shot basis, so I don't have to store the entire thing as RAW files - once they've been processed I can dump those if I need the space and just keep the downsized QT files. I also use external hard drives for storage, so space hasn't become an issue yet (actually I still have all the original RAW files just in case I want to go back to them at some point and make some different decisions). 

But I get what you're saying - for simple whiteboard animation, I suppose using RAW would be complete overkill.

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