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Osmo at the Oz – A New View for Open Mics?

January 25, 2017

DJI Osmo

DJI Osmo

PARIS – I started this blog in 2010 at the same time as I bought what felt to me like a revolutionary little video and music-filming device, my first Zoom recorder. It was the device that since that time – with upgrades – allowed me to make quick and easy videos with great sound of open mics and open jams all over the world. Now, finally, seven years later, I have found a new device that could entirely revolutionize again the way I make videos for this blog. Or maybe not. Last night was the first time I got to try my new DJI Osmo steady camera video recording device, and I did so at a pretty typical kind of open mic space. The experience was mixed – with some really great high points, and some lower ones….

I first learned about this fabulous camera called the Osmo, from a fellow journalist covering the Formula One series; and that he was using this camera for pit and paddock interviews for NBC, the major American network, made me perk up my eyes and ears. The Osmo looks like some kind of extraterrestrial, some kind of ET, mixed with your mobile phone. I am using a Samsung, but any phone can connect to it. The telephone is used as your eyes on what the camera is doing, and it also is the base for the program you download to run the camera. The connection is done over a wifi that the camera itself produces – i.e., the telephone connects to the camera via the camera’s wifi.
Oz mic second

The beauty of this thing is that it is portable, it is not very expensive – I got it on sale for 499.99 euros at Fnac, since the newer model is out at about 700 euros, but also has a zoom – and that it films in 4K and, above all, is a steady cam. That means you can walk around with it in your hand and the image looks as if it is on rails. You move it with the movement of your arm, and with the joy stick that gives nearly 360 degree movement of the camera, as well as an up and down range. In short, for 500 euros you can produce perfectly still footage that looks like it came out of The Shining.

You also have a wide choice of resolution, including 1080p, which allows you to use a digital zoom, and right up to the latest 4K, as mentioned. I tried it in several different lighting environments, and it remains a natural image throughout.
Oz mic third

So where’s the down side? Well, I’m not sure entirely, yet, after just one use in an open mic. On the other hand, I know what I loved about my Zoom devices in open mics: I could carry a Zoom camera in my pocket, drop it, send it sliding across the floor of any barroom, without damage, even dropped the Zoom in the toilet in Australia only to have it return to life a week or so later, never having lost any footage on the camera. The Osmos is more delicate, has to be treated with respect, and while it cannot be carried in the pocket, it can be carried in my guitar case with no problem.

But ultimately, part of the advantage of this beast might also be a problem: With its almost fish-eye like capture, I may be ending up with more image from an open mic room than I want. I mean, does the open mic crowd want to be part of the film or not? With the Zoom, I could film just the performer. I can do that with the Osmo, too, but this gadget looks so strange and bulky compared to the subtle Zoom or any handheld camera device or telephone, that I cannot go filming in an open mic without being noticed as a geek, and potential threat to the naturalness of the situation. It stands out, and I do not want to get too close to the performer and interrupt the attention of his or her performance by everyone staring at my weird gadget.
Oz mic fourth

Next, there’s the sound. The Osmo has a built-in microphone that is absolute trash. Mine also came with a strange external mic you attach to it, but here, it is hell for music recordings as it picks up all of the sound of the camera and its motors as it turns about and swivels and stills the jagged movements of the handheld device. There is a setting where you can turn off the fan while filming, but the mic that hangs off the device still picks up all this mechanical movement sound.

Enter my hand held Sony mic that I bought more than a decade ago for my minidisc recorder. I plugged it into the Osmo and found a fabulously quiet way of recording. But while it was perfect for my voice talking, I feel that the sound quality difference to the Zoom is big for music, based on last night’s recordings at the Café Oz open mic. But I’m hoping this has to do with it being a vocal mic, and not a good mic for music – I’ll explore that. On the other hand, there is the “hands problem.” I mean, with a Zoom, you hold the device in one hand – with this Osmo, you are obliged to use both hands: One for the device, another for the mic.
Oz mic sixth

What is undeniable, is that for 500 euros, this is an insanely fabulous video camera. DJI invented its cameras first for drones, and then it came up with the idea of doing these handheld steady cam devices. And it is a real fabulous winner for what it does, and for someone wanting to make videos – music videos, reportages, etc. – this is a winner. I’ll just have to see if it really is great for me and my open mic adventure. Oh yes, and it seems to eat up my phone battery, and the battery for the device goes pretty quickly too….

So I’m not yet decided as to how practical and great this will be as a replacement for the Zoom – but this remains an amazing, amazing discovery and I will find lots of ways to use it – especially for my next music videos….

Check out the videos I did last night at the Café Oz open mic in Paris….

Mini-Post: Literal Spotlight on Belleville Blues Band

January 21, 2011

A simple night last night on a visit to the Cabaret Culture Rapide where I played four songs, along with the members of the Belleville Blues Band. I’ve written a lot about this place and band in the past, so I won’t add anything now, except to say that each time I play with them is a greater pleasure than the time before. But the unique thing about last night was that I finally had enough light on the stage to get a video of the band in which you could see the performers and the surroundings very clearly. That’s one of the drawbacks of my Zoom Q3 recorder, and I’m hoping that the Zoom Q3HD will have helped on that – it films badly in dark light. So check out the image and music in the video of the band last night:

The Amateur Musical Video Revolution, and a Harry Chapin Anecdote

March 16, 2010

It may be a pretty simple, straightforward musical video, but I’m putting it up on my site today simply because I’m so excited about the broader implications of what it all means for my upcoming open mic adventure….

Today I went to the Pigalle district of Paris, the city where I live. Pigalle is known mostly for two things: Sex shops/sex shows, and, for musicians it’s a gold mine of an area with guitar stores, music stores, home studio stores, musicians’ gadgets shops, etc. All contained in the same few streets. Literally, I musician’s candy shop.

I went there for a couple of things, one of which was a new bag to carry my Seagull S6 guitar with me on my adventure around the world, since last year’s worldwide adventure nearly killed the bag I have. As I sauntered along looking in one store after another I suddenly saw an object in a store window that had also been on my agenda, or wish-list, of gadgets for this blog.

I’m talking about the new Zoom Q3 “Handy Video Recorder.” I own a fabulous Canon HDV video recorder and some excellent video editing software, zith Adobe Premiere Pro. But is there anything more dissuasive than the idea of setting up a camera, capturing the video, processing and editing it – when you’re just talking about grabbing some cool musician on the fly at an open mic or jam in Kuala Lumpur or London or Sao Paulo?

As you might have seen on this blog, over the last weekend when I was in Bahrain I tried to avoid using my camera and instead used my iPhone to record music at the Bahrain venues. And produced absolute crap with sound like as if you were hearing something going on in a rhinoceros’s stomach.

I had read several great reviews about this Zoom Q3, and I also own one of the original Zoom H4 recording devices so I iknew that Zoom made very good products for cheap prices. And I thought, this is the thing that I need in order to bring another dimension to my blog and give full reports of my musical adventure around the world this coming year. I can carry the recorder in my guitar bag and just whip it out and do a video of some cool musician, or maybe even me with a band in some jam in Barcelona or Istanbul. And then, I can upload the file to the blog in minutes.

Yes, this Zoom Q3 is so easy to use it is disgusting. Press a button and it records in better than CD quality sound, with a very good image and the capability of uploading directly to YouTube and my blog. It runs on AA batteries and can hold many many hours of video if you put a 32 gig SD card in it. (It comes with a 2 gig card which holds 39 minutes of the best quality video and sound, but more than that with lower quality.)

So there we go, no more sideways videos, and no more sound overload. This is going to be very cool, and very much fun. And the thing only cost around 240 euros or so.  It will take a little work before I realize how to get the right sound and light.

Good hearted Harry Chapin

Above, is the first video of me using the Q3 and singing Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”  Chapin was a wonderful singer-songwriter who had huge success in the ’70s, notably with “Taxi” and “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which was a No. 1 hit and was later covered by Ugly Kid Joe in the 1990s.  Chapin died in a car crash in 1981 – although there was some evidence to suggest he might have had a heart attack in the car, causing the crash, if I remember correctly.

I had the good fortune to have met Harry Chapin in 1976, when I was a teenager working on a TV show in Ottawa.  I spoke with him in his dressing room and I will always remember not just how kind he was, but also the nature of his easy-going character.  We learned we both had the same birthday, and we were talking about wanting to go to acting school – he said he wanted to do that in future – and suddenly he was called out to perform in front of the cameras.  He lept up from his chair and grabbed his guitar, but the guitar slipped out of his grasp, fell to the floor and a rib broke inside the guitar.  He looked in it, shook it, saw it was broken, and he broke out laughing and said, “Well, I’ll just have to play with it like that!”  As he ran off, I thought about how I would have been so angry had the same thing happened to me.

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