Monday, September 14, 2015


I now continue my attempt to keep my 2009 Mac Pro relevant. As outlined
in my previous blog, I have performed several upgrades on my 'cheese grater'
since I bought it.  Recently, I 'flashed' the firmware on it and upgraded my
CPU's from a single Quad Core (2.66ghz) to a Hex Core (3.46ghz).  It was
a big upgrade, especially for compressing and outputting video.  But for
rendering video in the timeline, it's not quite as much next up,
I decided to upgrade the video card again, as many video programs
are starting to offload a lot of the work to the GPU card.  My
Mac Pro had the old GT120 (512MB) and a Quadro FX 4800 (1.8GB)
as the current graphics I started looking into options.

After a lot of research, I decided that the Nvidia GTX980 Ti would be a 
good candidate.  Now the GPU you decide on, can largely depend on
which programs you use.  Adobe and DaVinci Resolve, both make 
great use of the CUDA technologies on the Nvidia cards.  FCP X on the
other hand, uses Open GL/CL which is what the AMD cards are best at.
Now, I love Adobe's programs.  Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop,
Audition and even a few new good ones like SpeedGrade and Prelude.
But what I cannot STAND is Adobe's new payment method.  No more
buying software.  If you wish to use Adobe's programs now, you must
pay them a 'subscription' fee, just as you might pay your cable company
or cell phone service provider.  You pay monthly, and once you stop paying,
the programs stop working.  So I refuse to use anything beyond Adobe's CS6
(which was the last version you could outright purchase from them.)  But
I do use DaVinci Resolve.  Which means CUDA is nice for Resolve, but 
Open GL/CL would be nice for FCP X.  It seems, that the Nvidia GTX980 Ti,
though, uses both technologies, and furthermore, it seems it's performance
benchmarks very well in both.  

Next I would like to give a shout out to MVC (Mac Video Cards).   These enterprising
computer experts, take video cards and 'flash' them with the Mac EFI.  Now with 
Yosemite, you don't 'have' to do this, if you don't need the Mac boot screen.  I 
actually have 2 different hard drives, and switch between which one I want to boot
from, by holding down option when I start up my computer....and without the boot 
screen, I wouldn't be able to do this.  I also like to support these guys, as they seem
to be trying to help keep the old Mac Pros viable, as long as possible.  So I bought
my GTX980 Ti from them.  Another option, which would be even better, would be
to buy an overclocked GTX980 Ti and then send it to them.  They will flash the
card for you for $180....and then you have the even faster GTX 980 Ti.  But even
the stock one is plenty powerful as you will see.

So I ordered up the card.  MVC got it to me pretty fast.

One thing that kept bothering me when I was doing my research, was that
if you just went and bought a 'unflashed' generic GTX 980 Ti, it said you 
needed a 6 pin power connector and an 8 pin power connector.  The 2009 
Mac Pro, only has two 6 pin power connectors.  But at MVC's site, it said 
the card came with two 6 pin power connectors.  Now I was pretty sure that
MVC didn't have any special version of the card, as I think they just buy them
and then flash them for you.  So, I just wasn't sure what to think.  But after 
I got it, the mystery was cleared up.  MVC sends you one normal 6 pin to 
6 pin cable, and one 8 pin to 6 pin cable,  along with the flashed card.  
There is no problem with anything,  it works perfect, you just need to plug in the 8 pin
end to the video card, and the six pin end, into the power supply in the Mac Pro.

And just slide the GPU card in like any other GPU card.  Now I will admit,
I misplaced my Mac Pro manual and it has been so long since I installed a GPU
in my computer, that I totally forgot how to do it!  Luckily, I had my handy 
iPad next to me and looked up an online PDF of the 2009 Mac Pro manual
and got the card installed.  Not too bad, but lets see how much it helped.

First up is a Cinebench benchmark

'Before' benchmarks 
Quadro FX4800 (1.8GB)

'After' benchmarks
GTX 980 Ti (6GB)

OK, so this card seems to have respectable OpenGL performance as well
as it's 2800+ CUDA cores....that's nice.  Next up is a benchmark in FCP X,
called 'BruceX'.  The following quote comes from 

"BruceX is a small Final Cut Pro X XML file that you import into Final Cut Pro. It creates a very short timeline at the highest possible standard resolution that Final Cut can handle: 5120 by 2700 (at 23.975 fps). It uses standard Final Cut generators, titles and transitions. As it uses many layers of complex content, it requires lots of GPU RAM."

So, first, I tried it with my old Quadro FX4800.  It took 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
After I installed the GTX 980 Ti.  I tried it again.   Hmmm...strange.  This time it
took me 4 minutes and 45 seconds.  What????  Then I thought it over.  My problem
was that I had left my GT 120 video card in my Mac Pro.  It doesn't need either one
of the power leads, as it gets all it's power through the slot.  I have heard, that is the
best way for using Resolve, you plug your monitor into the GT120 and free the 
980 Ti from having to drive the monitor, thus letting it only have to perform the GPU
calculations.  But my monitor was plugged into the GT120, and FCP X was using
that instead of the 980 Ti!!!  So I switched the plug on the back of my computer and
tried it again.  And it took......25 seconds.  Wow, that was insanely fast.  So I then 
tried some plug ins that used to choke up my timeline.  NewBlue Titler 3D.  Not
even a hiccup, it just let me spin 3D objects to my hearts delight without even
stuttering.  3D text in Motion 5 was the same.  Now I'm sure that part of my 
astonishment, comes from the fact that I am jumping from an old, underpowered
card, to one of the better video cards currently on the market.  But this really
is a big deal, I can just do SO MUCH motion graphic stuff and 3D content in real
time!  Motion 5 benefits quite a bit here too.  Fair warning, Resolve 12
may benefit from having a 2nd video card in to run your monitor, but
FCP X does NOT seem to.  It seems that it only wants to use the card
that the monitor is plugged into.  At least, that is the way it behaved for
me when doing the 'BruceX' test.   

Finally, I tried Resolve 12.  My timing was perfect as the first 'official' 
(non beta) release had just come out, the very day I got my new video card.
I have heard all kinds of complaints about it being 'laggy' and not performing
well as an NLE.  And to be honest, with my old video card, I really couldn't
even use it, it was really slow and not even usable for editing.  I fired it up....and....
presto.  Not even the same program.  Realtime playback (23.98fps) when using
the edit page.  I could actually edit an entire video in Resolve with this type of

In summary, I'd highly recommend this card, especially if you are using
a 2009-2012 old Mac Pro.  It will give your computer new life.  Now 
there is another card the Titan X (12GB) which is even better.  It is significantly
more money though, and the 980Ti benchmarks very closely to the Titan X
in most tests I have seen.  As usual, it all depends on your budget.

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mac(Gyver) Pro Upgrade

Back in 2009, I needed a new computer to take me through a transition
from SD to HD (yes, I was shooting SD in 2009!)  I ended up deciding
on a Mac Pro.  But I had a limited budget so I opted for a refurbished
single quad core instead of the more expensive dual quad core.
After all I was just worried about HD back then, I wasn't even imagining
4K (I still don't work with 4K but who knows...?)  This was the Mac I bought.
Because it was a Mac Pro, it was expandable,  so over time, I 'improved' it.
I bought 4 sticks of 4Gig RAM for a total of 16 gigs.  I bought
3 extra internal hard drives, giving me 2 separate system drives (so that
I could have different OS's on each one) and 2 drives I striped together into
a RAID 0 for speed.  I upgraded the video card from the stock GT120
to a FX 4800.  And I installed an internal Blu Ray burner so that I could
burn off Blu Ray movies of my HD productions.  Nice thing about these
Mac Pros is upgrading everything is really easy.  No tools needed, not
even a swiss army knife and duct tape!  It really is a pretty
nice machine and I've never had any issues with it.

Honestly, even in 2015 it still works just fine.  But I wouldn't mind some
more speed, mainly for encoding video.  When I produce long form
events (such as dance performances) I am often encoding a 2.5 hour long
timeline into both MPEG 2 (for DVD) and H.264 (for Blu Ray).
That can take awhile....more on this later!

I started some online research into options for upgrading a 2009 Mac Pro.
First thing I found out, is that the 2009-2012 Mac Pros are basically the 
same.  But the 2009 Mac Pro's have different firmware, which keeps them
from recognizing the newer CPU's that you could otherwise install into
them.  But there is a workaround.  An enterprising Mac 'hacker'
discovered a way to 'flash' your firmware.  You literally run it, and it 
makes your Mac think it is a 2010-2012 Mac Pro.  In your system profiler, it 
changes the 'Model identifier' from a MacPro 4.1 to a MacPro 5.1.
And the best thing is, it then lets you install off the shelf Intel Xeon 
processors!  However, while reading, I found another potential problem.
It seems the Mac Pros were using 'lidless' CPU's and off the shelf
Intels were 'lidded'....and you can't really buy 'lidless' CPU's very easily if
at all.  Basically what this means is that they wouldn't fit just right.
Not being a computer expert, I would have no idea how to remove the 'cap'
on the CPU.  There was a lot of info about this online.  Another video
professional, Erik Naso who writes a great blog, posted about how he updated 
his Mac Pro.  He had a 2009 dual quad core Mac Pro.  He bought a 'kit' from
an outfit called DN Computers for $549.  This outfit removed the lids
from the CPU's for you, and sent them to you along with a USB stick
which had the new firmware on it.  Read his blog about how he did it
here.  He does a great job showing how it all worked for him.

But then, just another page into my research, and I hit gold.  It
seems the 2009 Mac Pro single quad core processors did not use
'lidless' CPU's like the 2009 Mac Pro double quad core processors.
What that meant, was that I would NOT have to go through the
hassle of buying a 'kit' through a third party like Erik did.  I could
just buy an 'off the shelf' CPU and install it into my computer.
The best CPU I could find, was the same one's that Erik used, only
instead of installing 2 hex core CPU's, I could only install 1.
But still, it would be an upgrade from 4 cores running at 2.66ghz
each to 6 cores running at 3.47ghz each.  Plus it would only cost
$220 for the CPU and $3 for some thermal paste.  I found the 
firmware online, so no need to buy a kit with the USB key
like Erik did either!  You can find the firmware and instructions
here.  So I ordered the CPU's and thermal paste.  I decided to
'flash' the firmware while waiting for the CPU to come in.
Uh oh.  After downloading it and following the instructions I 
got a '5570 error'.  I did a quick internet search and found this
bit of information.
It appears Apple has removed/moved or otherwise changed the
location for the MacProEFIUpdate1.5dmg, which now causes the
Mac Pro 2009-2010 Firmware Tool to generate the dreaded 5570
error because it can't find it to download.  Aplle appears to have
renamed it to MacProEFIUpdate.dmg, the same name as the other
file needing download from Apple and can be downloaded 
here as others have mentioned in this thread:

So I clicked on that link and downloaded it.  Then I attempted
to flash the firmware again. worked.

After the CPU came in, I blocked off a couple hours
for the upgrade.  But, I really only needed 10 minutes.
It's that easy.  I removed the processor tray from the computer.
Then I unscrewed the heatsink (the big grey rectangle).  You can see there
are 5 screw holes, and you need a long hex key/allen wrench to unscrew
the 5 screws.  That is the only tool you need to do this upgrade.  And the 
screws will not come loose, they are spring loaded to the heatsink.  After the 
heatsink is unscrewed, you pull it off.

There will be thermal paste on both the old CPU (top picture) and the 
heatsink (bottom picture).  I used some 'touch screen wipes' to clean it
off with.  I used them because they are pre-moistened with isopropanol,
which works great to remove the thermal paste.  I cleaned the old
CPU just in case and packed it away in the new CPU package.
Then installed the new CPU and put a drop of thermal paste on top.

After I put the thermal paste on, I reattached the heatsink
and screwed it back on.  And that was it.  Next, to check 
out performance increases.  I had run Geekbench, and ran
another test (a self made video encoding test) on my
computer before I installed the new CPU.  Here are
the 'before' Geekbench scores:

And here are the 'after' Geekbench scores.

Well, that looks like a good improvement, but what does that REALLY mean?
Luckily I had thought of this ahead of time and decided to perform a 'real world'
test.  I had a 1.5 hour long event (dance performance) that I needed to encode
to both DVD and Blu Ray for clients to purchase.  This was a multicam
shoot using footage from a Sony FS700, Sony FS100 and Sony VG20.
Native AVCHD footage.  It was all supposed to be 24P (at 24mbps) but my 
second shooter had messed up and set one of the cameras to record at 60P.
Luckily FCP X will handle all that, synching the cams by audio and matching
the 60P stuff to the 24P framerate....but it did introduce a little extra strain
on the whole encode, which made it a perfect 'real world' test subject!
I sent the timeline from FCP X to Compressor.  I then dropped 3 separate 
encode settings on the file.  The first was a standard MPEG 2 encode to DVD.  
The second was a standard H.264 encode to Blu Ray.  The third was an encode
of the audio to .ac3.  So my CPU would encode this 1.5 hour long project three
separate times.  So here is the results from the old quad core 2.66 CPU.

Interestingly it took longer to encode to the SD MPEG 2 .m2v than it did
to the HD MPEG 4 H.264.  Maybe because of the downrezzing?  Anyways
3 hours and 24 minutes to encode a 1.5 hours of video into two different video 
formats and 1.5 hours of audio.  Faster than real time......but what about the
new CPU?  Well here are the results from the new CPU.

So 2 hours and 12 minutes to encode the exact same timeline into the
exact same video formats and audio format.  A time savings of 1 hour 
and 12 minutes.  Again, it took longer to encode the SD MPEG 2 .m2v
than it did the HD MPEG 4 H.264.  

So all in all, pretty easy.  If you have one of these machines, it's 
totally worth the upgrade.  I put together a video showing the
process.  It's not great as I just had a camera laying on the floor
and another on a tripod behind me.  Too eager to get this done to
do much production on the video I guess.  But I think if you watch this
video, it can answer any questions you have about the process.
Also, if you are interested in upgrading your MacPro you should join
the MacPro Facebook page.  Lots of nice people there who are much 
smarter than I am!

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sony 18-105.....The Baby Sea Monster

I really like shooting Super 35.  But one of the challenges has to do with lenses.
It's like they multiply when you put two of them in a backpack together, and you
end up with a fast prime (50mm F1.4) a wide zoom (10-20mm F4.5) a 'normal'
zoom (17-50 F2.8) a 'normal/telephoto' (50-150 F2.8) a fast, wide zoom (18-35 F1.8)
a fast 'portrait' prime (85mm F1.4) and a 'superzoom' (18-200mm F3.5-6.3).  So
when shooting 'unpredictable' stuff, you have a decision to make.  My ideal scenario
would be to have 8 arms like the great Sea Monster, and switch lenses quickly and 
still get the shots I needed.  In the absence of this, I would often use the lens that 
came as a kit lens with my FS700....the 'superzoom' (soon to be renamed 'The Sea Monster').  
And there are lots of pluses with this lens, even if you don't hear about them online
from 'cinema' shooters who look down on it.  Native E-mount 'goodies' like: nice image
stabilization, great range!, auto focus, face detection, tap to focus, auto iris.  It makes it
into a decent run and gun lens.   I know you have heard about all the negatives......
focus 'by wire', extending lens barrel, and ramping seems cinema shooters just
don't appreciate Sea Monsters the way they should.  Now there are other Sea Monsters out
there.  But these other Sea Monsters are a bit elitist.  They will only show up if you have a lot
of money.  Like this one. or this one.

Enter Sony's 'Baby Sea Monster'.  This lens, attempts to address some of the concerns
that shooters had with the original.  No extending's a total internal zoom from
18-105mm.  No ramping iris.  It's a constant F4 at any focal length.  It keeps the autofocus,
auto iris, face detection, tap screen to focus, and image stabilization (standard only, it
doesn't have the amazing 'active' mode of the original Sea Monster!)  But this is a Sea Monster
for everyone at just $599!  Yeah, the 'focus by wire' system is still there, but that wasn't 
really the worst problem.  The bigger problem was the 'pillow distortion'.  Yes it seems this Baby Sea Monster may have a bad tentacle or two.  Early reviews came out and showed just how bad it was.

I bought the lens before I saw the reviews.  After I got it, and confirmed that the distortion was indeed present and very, very bad, I called Sony Professional.  I had heard that the lens worked with 'in camera correction' that the Sony still cameras had....and I had heard rumors of a coming firmware fix, that would allow the cinema cameras to correct for the distortion as well.  Sony told me, that there was no firmware fix coming for the cinema cameras, and that it was meant for still cameras (which I found strange as it was a power zoom lens, but what do I know?)  It seems the extra pixels in a 16-24 megapixel still camera, allow for the distortion to be corrected.  So I returned the lens.  Imagine my surprise, when about 6 months later, I heard there WAS going to be a firmware fix after all.  It seems that the extra pixels in the 4K chip on the Sony FS700 and FS7, would also allow the distortion to be corrected.  But only in HD, (not 4k) and only up to 60fps.  So again, I ordered the lens.  After a quick firmware update to my FS700....I was in business.  With the firmware fix, this is a whole new Baby Sea Monster!  All tentacles are working properly.....there is none of the distortion that was previously there.! Here is a quick test video, showing some of the native E-mount goodies:


As you can see, the range, constant aperture, internal zoom, and auto functions make this an interesting lens.   Interesting enough that I put it to use on a job the day after I got it.
If you read my earlier blog posts, you can see one called 'Something for the Holidays'.
I was hired by the Governor's office to produce this video, and it was shot on the FS700 with the 18-105 lens.  Just in case you don't want to scroll down my is the video.

But alas, no way to use the high frame rates on my FS700 because the distortion would be back as the distortion compensation couldn't keep up with the high frame rates.  But I decided to try it anyways......and it seems that this Baby Sea Monster has a trick or two up it's sleeve.  See for yourself.

Yup, the high frame rates worked just fine, all the way up to 480fps!  Pretty cool!
It has some minuses, but really, it's a 'cracking' little lens.

Release the Kraken!!!


Small and light

Very nice range on Super 35 about a 6x zoom.....wide to moderate telephoto.

Constant F4 aperture

Internal zoom means no extending lens barrel

All the native E-mount goodies.  Great autofocus, face detection autofocus, standard image stabilization (good but not quite as good as the 'active' image stabilization on the 18-200), tap to focus on your LCD screen, and auto iris.

Works with zoom rocker and is pressure sensitive for 'feathered' zooms.

After firmware update, lens is great with very little distortion and nice looking images.

Seems to be parfocal!
Price $599

*Surprise bonus.....distortion compensation works at high frame rates (at least on
the FS700).


'Fly by wire' focus and zoom rings can be annoying.  Hard to
'hit spots' with manual focus ring and no 'snap zoom' with zoom ring.

I haven't tested it but distortion compensation probably won't work in 4K

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

Friday, January 9, 2015

Putting together a promo video part 3

Finally, I was tasked with one final video in the series.  (If you are just reading this for the first time, go back and read parts 1 and 2 first, it will make much more sense!)  This final video was to be aimed at high school administrators.  The University's Tech Prep Program had a few high schools in the region who were NOT participating in the partnership with the University.  Of course the University was hoping to persuade them to start participating by stressing that most of the work would be done by the university and so on.  So we created a client brief for this video as well.

Video 3) High school administrator

We need to show the support of important figureheads throughout the Southeast.  Governor
Bill Walker, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Cathy Munoz, Chancellor John Pugh, etc...
We need to make the admin and school boards feel they are among important people in their field.  We want them to feel that by being involved in this program, they are leaders in education.  Again, all about bragging rights.  By being involved with this program, they will be considered elite among community members and they will ultimately actively recruit students into the program.  This video is all about outlining the educational values of this program.  Using 'buzz words' if you can include them.  The 'important figures' should help reinforce the idea that the Tech Prep programs are cutting edge and that all educators should be enthused to be involved in steering kids towards these programs.  The administrators should see that many of the top people in this state consider Tech Prep programs to be very important and feel that they should join these influential people in promoting Tech Prep programs to students.

Client brief above, video below.  Do they actually go together?  Hopefully.......

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

Putting together a promo video part 2

So on to the next installment in my series of Putting together a promo video.  Which should
probably be called Putting together a series of promo videos.  If you haven't read it yet, look
through the first post before you read this one to better understand what is going on.

So, my second video in this series, was aimed at parents.  The idea being to get parents to
encourage their high school age students to enroll in Tech Prep Programs.  Again, this video
was aimed at a totally different audience, so it had a totally different objective and feel.
When coming up with the client brief for this video, we talked about what parents would
want.  Here is the client brief for this second video

Video 2 Parent)
We have to tug at the heartstrings of the parent.  Parents from our communities want, for
 the most part, for their kids to stay in Southeast or at least within Alaska.  They are proud 
of their kids, and want great things for them.  They have a great love of their family, 
traditions, and their communities.  We have to showcase each community throughout 
Southeast.  The Tech Prep Programs are strong here in Juneau, however the smaller 
communities don't necessarily feel a strong connection to Juneau.  The video can't be
based on footage of Juneau or most of the parents won't be able to relate to it.  They need 
to be able to see shots of their community, so they identify that this is a program for them. 
Parents would be proud of their kids for attending the University of Alaska in Juneau, but 
they really are in love with their own community and want their child to succeed there.  
Tech Prep, especially for the high school years is all about the student being successful 
in their own communities.  We want to show the impact of our Tech Prep programs on 
their community.  We want to be able to illustrate how their child could make them proud 
by working within their communities and giving back to the community.  We want to make
 this video a 'warm fuzzy' for the parent watching.  It's all about potential bragging rights. 
 Parents love to brag about their kids.  this video could be longer (than 2 minutes) 
because parents have more patience in watching informational videos, especially moms.  
Maybe use interviews with parents and students to highlight key issues??

So with the client brief in mind, here is what I produced for the second film.

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema