Lens test shoot – Neewer 35mm f1.7

Last week a new lens arrived – the Neewer 35mm f1.7 (E-mount). So I did a little test shoot both in my house and out in the park, just catching the blossoms of late Spring in time. I also did a few shots in ultra-low light, in a room solely illuminated by computer monitor and glowing mouse.

Being a budget lens, it’s entirely analogue. That means no autofocus, and no optical image stabilisation. So while handheld shots get a little shakier, it’s worth it for the narrow depth of field and soft bokeh. It can also almost see in the dark when wide open – at f1.7 and ISO 6400, it can see better than me!

Another thing I was testing was a new Picture Profile, which makes colours super-rich. It’s called CPF FILMIC 1.0 by Richard Crook. On the forum where I found it, one person said it looked like Kodachrome! I only used it for the second half of the shoot, so you can see it mostly from 1:15 onwards.

All in all, the Neewer 35mm f1.7 is an absolutely fantastic lens, especially when you consider it only costs £60 brand new! Cracking stuff.

Music – Antti Luode – Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Camera – Sony NEX-EA50
Picture Profiles used: PP3 +3 colour level, CPF FILMIC 1.0 by Richard Crook

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Has Youtube been taking notes from HYDRA?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is riding high once more! Box office reports are in, and Avengers: Infinity War is the new highest ever film for opening weekend box office. Hearty congrats to Marvel (and their parent company Disney) for their 10 years of success.

But a rather different item of news has caught our eye. Remember 2014’s critical and box office success Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Beware minor plot spoilers, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film.

In The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers (AKA Captain America) discovers that the Nazi group he fought and defeated during WW2 lives on. In fact, HYDRA has only grown since, covertly influencing world events towards chaos. This is achieved partly through dead HYDRA scientist Armin Zola’s ‘algorithm’.

“The twenty-first century is a digital book. Zola taught HYDRA how to read it. Your bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, e-mails, phone calls, your damn SAT scores… Zola’s Algorithm evaluates people’s past to predict the future.”
-Jasper Sitwell

Youtube’s Algorithm

Well, HYDRA is not the only organisation with a secret program that influences the world. Former Youtube engineer Guillaume Chaslot has been talking about Youtube’s own mysterious recommendation algorithm. This is the code that controls what videos Youtube recommends, and its search results.

Chaslot was one of the engineers working on Youtube’s algorithm. Because he was trying to give the users more control over the algorithm, he was fired in 2013. Since 2016, Chaslot has been tracking Google’s recommendations. And what he found would make HYDRA proud.

Chaslot found that the algorithm often recommends conspiracy-theory, anti-science, or anti-media videos. He also found that the algorithm prefers videos that feature certain politicians that talk in aggressive, bullying ways.

You can see the results of his research yourself at AlgoTransparency.org.

Whether Youtube is actively trying to destabilise the world like HYDRA is unclear. But surely activists like Chaslot are needed. The companies who control the information age must be held accountable, for the way they shape the world narrative.

As for Infinity War, no spoilers please, we at Colour Surge Media haven’t seen the film yet!

Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/christiaancolen/20445410340 licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Cuteness ft. Owen

Well, it’s high time I blow the cobwebs off this blog, and what better way to get restarted than with a cute baby video?

This is my son Owen in a music video made for Mother’s Day a little while back (as a present to both his Grandmas). As you can see, he’s a lively little feller, though he hasn’t quite mastered crawling or talking yet (not for want of trying).

I shot the video on my Sony NEX EA50, which is effectively a DSLR in a videocamera body, with the stock SELP18200 lens. You can get very nice shallow depth of field as long as you stay fully zoomed out.

Don’t forget to watch right to the end for the post-credits sequence!

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CueSongs beta revisited – colour me surprised!

Extra! Extra! OMG!!
Almost a year ago now, I blogged an early judgement on the CueSongs beta. Suffice to say I was very disappointed at a service that was trumpeted as a radical shake-up of music licencing, making it accessible and affordable for all, when it was very much less than that. Accordingly, I posted an irritated polemic, and also emailed the text to CueSongs. Even after a pleasant couple of email responses from Ed Averdieck and another member of staff, I was gently rebuffed in suggesting they expand their offering to “semi-pro” and home users.

It’s been particularly pleasing that, to this day, Googling CueSongs beta brings up my blogpost as the second result!*

However, I’m always willing to reassess and accept that I may have got things wrong. Having subscribed to their updates, I recently had an email informing of changes including this gem:

We’ve got many more license types available. In particular, we’ve introduced new cheaper licenses for SOHO (Small Office & Home Office) video producers, for YouTube Channels and online broadcast and for non-commercial users like schools and producers of wedding and other home and family type videos.

Hallelujah! Having dug into the site in more detail, I found their very sensible percentages charges. Given online advertising is 100%, they’ve got a much more diverse selection of licences, including School at 1% and Personal at 0.5%. Given a sample track, FRIDGE MAGNETS – SHE DON’T DANCE (INSTRUMENTAL) [as mentioned below, the website design doesn’t enable linking to it!] which costs £600 for a World licence, that means Schools pay £60 and the personal charge is £30. Not too far off from my suggested basic rate in the previous post!

I’m also glad to see they’ve added a Photographer/Videographer licence for event footage, again at a low rate a world away from the high corporate percentage levels – a very good decision.

Even more encouraging is the way they’ve allowed internet streaming on the various licences, and made the key distinction between ad supported and no ads. A video can come under Personal, School or Videographer licences as long as it’s not ad supported on Youtube (which is a system you have to actively opt into). Ad supported Youtube videos need the still reasonable 5% rate. I’m guessing that if your duly licensed kitty video suddenly goes viral and you want to put ads on it, you’d simply be able to re-licence at the higher rate.

There are still room for improvements. The track selection is still rather anaemic, meaning the music you can use is dictated by their available selection, although that’s to be expected in a service that’s still young and growing. Also, personally I don’t like the one-page app-ish design that flicks around when you click on things, and doesn’t have tracks as specifically linkable/openable HTML pages. It doesn’t feel like a website design that’s robust enough for powerusers (not to mention SEO) – but again, this may well be changed and updated as the service grows. Or perhaps I’ll grow more used to websites designed for tablets rather than computers!

One other issue worth noting is that a lot of tracks don’t have the cheaper “non commercial” licences enabled. Again, hopefully the record labels will eventually be convinced that, rather than diluting their brand, this is a positive thing. As I’ve explained before, the videos will be uploaded either way – infringing or licensed. Allowing the licences just enables them to profit from it, even in small amounts, versus getting nothing. But this probably isn’t under CueSongs’ control – they’re just waiting on the publishers waking up to 21st Century realities.

All in all, I’m both impressed and encouraged. Whether my feedback had much to do with it or not, it’s pleasing that CueSongs has updated its offering to better reflect and service the commercial realities of the internet today. I wish them great success in their continued growth!

* = YMMV, due to Google’s filter bubbles…

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The Olympic Torch arrives in Headingley

Last weekend, I decided to attend the Olympic torch relay event in Headingley with some friends – and I took the camera along. Here’s the footage that I shot:

Peter Howard carries the Olympic Torch into Headingley, as part of its ten-week tour of the UK before the London Olympics 2012.

Bright Wish, Evening Melodrama – Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons “Attribution 3.0” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Colour Surge Media is in no way affiliated with London 2012 or any of its sponsors.

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Livestreaming the Royal Ballet

Today’s an exciting day in the unfolding popular progress of video livestreaming. Whilst the Occupy movement, internet gaming, and comedians and entertainers (eg. Limmy and Tomska) have been making good use of this technology recently, today is a new watershed – high culture has joined the livestreaming party.

The Royal Opera is livestreaming all day today, behind the scenes of the Royal Ballet, with rehearsals, interviews and special features on every aspect of ballet school life.

It’s hard not to admire such a quality event – #RBLive is currently trending on twitter, the camerawork is excellent, and the whole thing is well organised. Surely this will open up ballet to a whole new internet audience, which can only reflect well on all involved.

Take a look at the stream on Youtube’s page here!

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Theatre Events update

Hi everyone!

We have some great new videos for you, freshly uploaded to Youtube. Both are highlights of theatre events, both shot with two cameras last year.

First up we have Raise Your Voice, the second yearly show we’ve recorded for Stuart Stage School (not counting The Wizard of Oz under their Showstoppers brand). It was great to be working with these guys again, though the production was held in a new venue to us, the Theatre Royal in Wakefield. Having to shoot from two separate boxes at either side of the circle presented its own challenges, but the final video was as excellent as the young people’s performances.

Secondly we have DC Dance’s end-of-year show. They’re a new client for Colour Surge Media, and are based all the way over in Todmorden. Despite cold icy weather that threatened a repeat of the cancelled show in 2010, and another new shooting perspective (at the back of the stalls on a big riser), again (as you can see) all went extremely well.

In other news, the Theatre Events page of thw website has been updated and clarified. Now you’ll find it easier differentiating between the two example packages – and as you can see, Package B is now exemplified by the new Stuart Stage School video.

So, if you’re a dance or drama school in Yorkshire, do take a look at the packages, and then get in contact to find out what Colour Surge Media can do for you!

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Magnificent March!

To celebrate the imminent arrival of Spring, with longer days, flowers, blossom and all that good stuff, Colour Surge Media has a great offer for you – we’re calling it Magnificent March! Get the full details here.

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Verdict on the CueSongs beta – Not for the likes of us

Update 22/01/13: Since CueSongs has recently changed significantly in the aspects I discuss here, see this updated blog post for a second look at the issue.

As a video production company, naturally we use a lot of music. Often clients want to use commercial music, rather than royalty free alternatives, which is also understandable. But currently using commercial music in online video is a no-go, due to the complexity of the rights involved – not to mention the costs. Of course, many home users (and some businesses!) submitting to Youtube just use the music anyway, and are often tacitly approved of by the rights holders, via ContentID’s iTunes link mechanism. As a principled business, we’ve always wanted to avoid the risks and complacency of this approach – ignoring the law in a gamble that they won’t take the video down is hardly professional, in our view.

This is why it was so exciting to see this BBC article. It seemed the music industry was finally sitting up and taking notice, and filling the gap in the market for a product aimed at home users, charities and microbusinesses, making compliance with the law easy and cheap. We immediately found and signed up for the CueSongs beta (as it is currently up and running, unlike its rival Ricall Express).

Having made a lot of video for amateur drama schools and the like, we have made extensive use of PRS’s Limited Manufacture Licence, which combined with the bundled license from PPL makes DVD production for amateur use affordable (at rates such as £81.70 for 100 DVDs with less than 25 minutes of music used). As such, and following the text of the BBC article, we were hoping for a similar pricepoint from CueSongs.

However, having logged in and examined the pricing page, we were disappointed to find our expectations rather wide of the mark. It seems instead that the service is aimed more at large corporations and agencies, with prices to match. Videos on social media with “heavy branding” are £2000 per year per song. Even the “micro enterprise” rate is too high – £1200 per year per song. That might suit businesses near the £1.6 million a year turnover limit of the category, but is completely beyond the reach of businesses we regularly work with.

As for videos without heavy branding – drama school videos, say – the licence is £500 per song per year – totally out of the question. Licencing a video with one song uploaded to Youtube would cost between 25% and 50% of the total bill for videoing the event and producing all the DVDs – and that’s just for one year online!

Other licences worthy of note are the Short Film and Background Music to Website categories. At £250 per song per year, these are also too high, although not perhaps as unreachable as the others.

So, from these prices it’s clear that at the moment CueSongs has no interest in the low end of the market – a conjecture backed up when we contacted Edward Averdieck, co-founder of CueSongs, who said “We are not at this point targetting [sic] the amateur / semi pro market. But it’s interesting to hear your feedback and we will definitely review those types of usages for future implemention. Right now though we need to focus on just the B2B market as we get going.” (See the full text of his reply below)

But if CueSongs (or indeed Ricall Express) want to alter this approach, and target the other end of the market, how should they go about it? Well, here is our suggested solution:

Following PRS’s example, create a charity/amateur/home light/no branding user rate. Make it 20% or less of your micro enterprise rate (£20), and make it a one-off charge. Simple, straight forward, and affordable – £20 per song used.

Now, one might argue that that price is far too low. What if the video goes viral? What if the user puts advertising on it and makes a good deal of money from Youtube? Well, in that case the rights owners will be getting hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers listening to their music – and if they made it a condition of the licence to put an iTunes link in the description, many users would then buy the song, having got it stuck in their heads thanks to the exciting video. It’s good to be associated with content the viewers enjoy – and you’re getting the music out there, exposed to more potential fans.

Of course there are other issues – such as music being played over offensive material, or included with copyrighted video content – and of course they could cover those in the terms of the licence. But here’s the point – make the charge too high, or the terms too restrictive, and users will continue to ignore the licence and break the law, maintaining the status quo. But as we’ve seen from iTunes with music downloads, and Steam with gaming: provide an easy method to buy, at an affordable pricepoint, and you will wear down piracy and increase sales – see this article.

So, in summary – it’s exciting that big publishers are finally responding to the paradigm shift the web brings to the music business. They’ve met one gap in the market, by making it easy for big companies to licence commercial music for videos on the web. But they’ll really be missing a trick if they don’t also tailor their product to amateur and home use, at an appropriate price.

Here’s the full text of Mr Averdieck’s reply:

Thanks for your feedback which is much appreciated and taken on board – this is exactly why we have set up a Beta, to get market feedback from potential licensees.
The issue that you raise of pricing is particularly interesting to read. Let me explain the parameters that we have guided our prices. The PRS for Music has a rate card for Production Music or library music and this is published http://www.prsformusic.com/users/productionmusic/Documents/RateCard2012.pdf .

This is the price that business users – broadcasters, advertisers and film publishers pay to license music. The repertoire is for library music where the writer is often anonymous. CueSongs is all about enabling licensees to use commercially released work, which as you say has hitherto been difficult to license; it’s often intimidating for businesses who don’t license music often as they would have to go to multiple rights holders to seek approval and this is time consuming and quite complex to work out who to contact and get a response quickly.

Our pricing strategy is Premium Economy and as such we price at a premium to library music (which is what we would term as Economy) and, as a result, our licensees can get access to the Real Thing rather than a sound alike or a library track. We only target at business licensees – and that could be brands, agencies and small businesses – who we hope would license commercial tracks if it was easy to do and represented reasonable value for money.

We are not at this point targetting the amateur / semi pro market. But it’s interesting to hear your feedback and we will definitely review those types of usages for future implemention. Right now though we need to focus on just the B2B market as we get going.

Do let’s keep a dialogue open and it was great to hear that you like the concept.

Best wishes


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