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Shure A81WS & A7WS windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filters

Shure A81WS & A7WS windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filters 2

Although I have mentioned the so-called “presidential” A81WS in several microphone reviews, I have never dedicated any article to it before now. On the other hand, so far, I have covered the A7WS in one microphone review so far. Beyond being just windscreens and pop filters, both filters from Shure are also somewhat unique since they also do a dramatically much better job than any other competitive filter to reduce excessive breathing sounds too. Most other windscreens I have ever tested (with the notable exception of the RØDE WS2) have been ineffective at reducing plosives (p and b explosive sounds), let alone excessive breath sounds. My ears are very sensitive to both of these two issues: plosives and excessive breath sounds, which (in my humble opinion) make audio and/or audiovisual productions sound both irritating and unprofessional. That’s why I am reviewing the Shure A81WS (US$30) & A7WS (≈US$20) windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filters, while avoiding the thinner and much less effective RK345, which I do not recommend. Although Shure undoubtedly intends them to be used for Shure microphones, the A81WS and A7WS are helpful for many non-Shure microphones too.

About plosives

Generally speaking, microphones give us their best quality when placed as close to the person speaking as possible, i.e. about 8-10 centimeters (3-4 inches) for dynamic mics and about 10-15 centimeters (4-6 inches) for condenser microphones. In human speech, there are certain consonants (especially b and p) which cause a directional microphone to “pop” when we are at that ideal distance. There is sophisticated and expensive software to eliminate pops in post, but —whenever possible— it’s best to eliminate this issue acoustically. That means less work later, and a signal more appropriate for live broadcast too. I must also clarify that if some individual actually creates a pop that is so severe (i.e. as some comedians do), then that will not be correctable by any of the filters we are reviewing, since they become part of the original sound.

Another solution to plosives is to resolve it with mic technique. However, I have discovered three things about that:

  1. With some microphones, even if you speak at a 45-degree (or even 90-degree) angle, it still pops.
  2. In many cases, the mic doesn’t sound so good that way, as opposed to addressing it directly with a proper filter.
  3. Even though professional voice talent can often conquer pops via mic technique, they have the luxury of reading and also of doing several takes. That’s a luxury that radio & TV hosts, interviewers, interviewees or others who speak extemporaneously often don’t have, especially when they are concentrating on deciding what words to say, not reading something that has already been written and proofread.

 

About excessive breathing sounds

It is well known that some audio/video editors attempt to eliminate all breaths while editing, even to the extent of eliminating the time it takes to breathe. In some cases, it is good to reduce long pauses to set a better pace, but in other cases, this can be taken to an extreme where the original human speech no longer sounds natural. In fact, nowadays even computer-generated speech adds fake breathing to make it sound more natural with text-to-speech software. The excessive breath reduction benefit in the Shure A81WS and A7WS filters does not reduce breathing completely, but it does reduce excessive breathing to a point that it is much less necessary to attenuate most breaths in post. This is very welcome.

The following is courtesy of the first part of Shure’s FAQ #4172, a primer on reducing wind noise (including plosives) in microphones, since it is a great introduction to appreciate the A81WS and the A7WS.

A microphone responds to the movement of air and it does not care what caused the air to move. This means that a mic cannot distinguish between air movement originating from a talker, and air movement originating from local weather. Wind noise is a persistent problem with microphones but there are multiple ways to minimize unwanted noise.

 

Method 1: Attenuation of low frequencies using electronics

Wind noise has a large amount of low frequency (bass) content, often described as “rumble.” Cutting out the extreme bass from a microphone signal is an effective method to reduce audible wind noise. For example, the Shure SM81 has a three position low frequency cut (roll-off) switch. One setting is a steep roll-off, the second is a gentle roll-off, and the third is no roll-off. This switch effectively reduces low frequency wind noise. Or the Shure A15HP accessory can be added to a microphone output to roll-off low frequencies.

 

Method 2: Layers of Metal, Cloth, or Plastic Mesh

Troublesome wind noise has a higher air speed than speech. A screen of very fine mesh or gauze will dissipate the energy of the wind air movement, and have minimal effect on speech. Essentially, the mesh takes a large gust of wind, and divides into numerous smaller gusts of wind, thus reducing the power of the gust. It is imperative that the mesh does not vibrate or rattle as this will cause unwanted mechanical noise. Layers of mesh, with different porosity, will increase effectiveness. The Shure SM57 has a fine metal mesh in the center of its rotating black grill. This mesh helps to minimize wind noise, including talker “P”-popping which is a type of wind noise. The Shure PS-6 “Popper Stopper” has nylon-like cloth mesh suspended in the middle of a rigid circle of plastic. Placed in front of a studio vocal mic such as the Shure KSM44A, the PS-6 slows down a blast of air from the singer’s mouth before the blast reaches the microphone.

Method 3: Open Cell Foam

A specific type of “foam rubber” provides a function similar to the aforementioned mesh. Open-cell foam is required for a microphone windscreen. Open-cell means there is a meandering path for the air to move from the outer surface of the foam to the inner surface. Close-cell foam, such as used for product packaging, cannot be used as air cannot pass through it. The inside of the SM58 metal ball grill has a layer of open-cell foam. Open-cell foam is also used for an external windscreen like the Shure A58WS. The external windscreen shape must be aerodynamic (no sharp corners) to eliminate turbulence noise as wind moves over the windscreen. The Shure A81WS is a very effective windscreen as it has three different layers of open-cell foam, each with a different porosity. Each layer works to slow down the wind noise and dissipate the energy. The effectiveness of an open-cell foam windscreen is a direct function of its diameter: bigger is better. However, too many layers of foam will roll-off the higher frequencies, so a balance must be found between audio quality and wind noise attenuation.

 

Physical differences between the A81WS and the A7WS

Shure A81WS & A7WS windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filters 3
Above, the Shure palindromic 545 microphone in a rare photo with the palindromic ABBA. In the upper right corner is the 545 with the A81WS as I reviewed it.

The A81WS (which I have covered in many mic reviews) is designed for microphones with very narrow diameters. That’s why —in order to install it on a Samson Q2U— it requires both removing the microphone head and also doing some intense stretching. Some stretching is even necessary to install the A81WS on the Shure SM57 (where it is officially supported and blessed) and on the palindromic Shure 545, which I reviewed in 2016 (illustrated above).

On the other hand, the A7WS is made for microphones with a much larger diameter. In fact, the A7WS is the larger of the two windscreens for the famous Shure SM7B microphones. I have even observed a recent positive tendency among SM7B users who have recently switched from the inferior and thinner RK345 in favor of the much more effective A7WS. So far, I have used the A7WS in my recent review of the Samson Q9U (illustrated below).

Shure A81WS & A7WS windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filters 4
Above, the Samson Q9U hybrid microphone with the Shure A7WS windscreen/pop/excessive breathing filter.

 

Ironic price differences between the A81WS and the A7WS

The A81WS is officially offered by Shure for microphones that are lower in price, but has a higher price tag of US$30. On the other hand, the A7WS is officially offered by Shure for a US$399 microphone (the SM7B), even though the A7WS costs only ≈US$20.

 

High frequency loss?

Some people are extremely concerned about potential high frequency loss with windscreens. I am concerned about plosives and excessive breath sounds. With every microphone from any brand where I have ever installed an A81WS or the A7WS, I have actually found that they make the resulting sound smoother than without it or with any other windscreen.

 

Mic reviews where I have used the A81WS or A7WS

  • Click here to read (and listen to) mic reviews where I have used the A81WS.
  • Click here to read (and listen to) mic reviews here I have used the A7WS.

 

Conclusions

To date, the A81WS and the A7WS from Shure are the most effective screens I have ever tried and they do their great acoustic process to reduce wind, plosives and even excessive breathing. Fortunately, the A81WS and the A7WS both also work with other brands of microphones too. I highly recommend one or the other depending upon the microphone used.

NOTE: Even though —for many years, I have received sample microphones from many manufacturers for review —including AKG, Audio Téchnica, Betrun, Hooke Audio, IK Multimedia, Maono, Plugable, Samson, Sennheiser, RØDE, Zoom and other manufacturers, to date I have never received a single one from Shure. I voluntarily purchased the Shure 545 palindromic microphone I reviewed in 2016, as I did with the A81WS and A7WS. There must be some unusual email communication block between me and Shure. If anyone from Shure wants to attempt to break through the email barrier, here is the link.

 

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Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO Review: So. Much. Bokeh.

Venus Optics’ Laowa lenses have been growing in both notoriety and popularity over the last few years thanks to their nearly constant stream of new and interesting optics for a wide variety of mounts. The company’s latest is backed by the high-quality promise of its new Argus line: the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-C systems.

The incredibly fast $500 50mm equivalent manual lens boasts an Apochromatic (APO) design — which should prevent or correct any chromatic and spherical aberrations — and is targeted at video shooters using APS-C systems. APS-C sensors generally means smaller optics, but the Argus bucks that trend and is by no means small. Weighing in at 590 grams (~20.8 ounces), you’ll definitely notice it making your camera a tad front heavy when attached on pretty much all modern APS-C cameras.

As for using with it, since my own work focuses mostly on still images instead of video (and PetaPixel as a whole focuses on still photography first and foremost), this review will be mostly from the perspective of a still shooter.

Build Quality and Design

The 33mm Argus is a great feeling lens with a solid metal build and mount giving it a “high-end” feel. Even though this lens is meant for smaller APS-C systems, the lens looks and feels just like its bigger cinema counterparts. The lens itself is quite sturdy with a smooth “clickless” aperture and focus ring, a sleek blue ring at the end of the barrel, and is finished with a rectangular lens hood for a little cinematic flair. The focus ring has just enough tension to feel a little resistance when making adjustments, while the aperture ring is left feeling slightly looser by comparison. Overall though, it’s wonderfully machined and feels great.

The only thing that threw me off on the aesthetic was the lens hood. Maybe my review sample is an outlier, but for some reason, it just does not sit symmetrically on the lens. That is to say, it sat just ever so slightly skewed to the right, and while this had absolutely zero impact on the shots I took, this tilt just kicked my OCD into overdrive and drove me crazy every time I had it mounted on the lens. It bothered me to such a degree that I just did not end up using it.

Focus and Aperture

Like many of the Laowa lenses in Venus Optics’s lineup, the 33mm f/0.95 Argus is a manual focus lens only. After weeks of using and testing cameras that specifically tout the speed of their autofocus systems, using this manual lens was actually kind of refreshing. Enabling focus peaking is a must when shooting at such wide-open apertures as the f/0.95 offered here, but even then, simply breathing can make you miss the shot so, be prepared to fire a few extra frames in order to assure you’ve nailed that perfect focus.

A bit of a frustrating point with this lens is despite the large and smooth focusing ring, there is an excessive amount of throw in it.

I practically have to stop and take a break every time I’d adjust from near to far focusing. You effectively have to rotate the focus ring almost entirely around (270 degrees) to go from the close 0.35 meter to infinity focus. If this were in a cinema rig that takes advantage of a pulling unit, this wouldn’t be an issue, but most shooters will definitely have to take two twists when quickly adjusting focus distance and likely you’ll miss some key moments if you’re shooting anything that’s not sitting still.

The extra pull does have some usefulness when you’re focusing up close as it allows you to really fine tune things, but if you’re using it as more of a walkabout lens, get working on your forearm strength.

As I mentioned above, the aperture ring is clickless which is ideal for video and will work great if the lens is mounted in a focus pulling kit or gimbal, but as a photographer, it was incredibly easy to accidentally shift the f-stop without immediately noticing. There were countless times while using this lens that I would set it to f/0.95 and it would shift to f/1.4 or f/2.8 by accident and I wouldn’t see it until I reviewed the shots. While I can see that having a clickless aperture is hugely useful in some cases, I think Laowa would have been better served giving us a click and de-click switch to make the lens more versatile like Sony does with its lenses. When in permanent de-clicked mode, it just feels like a cinema lens and not one that is tailored for photographers, which is a shame given the quality of images (more on that below).

Image Quality

How does this lens perform, especially considering the APO designation they claim? While we have not directly compared it yet to Mitakon or 7artisans rivals, from what I did shoot with the lens I found it to be surprisingly good, especially wide open in hard lighting situations. It was rather windy when I did some of the floral shots so nailing the focus was a challenge wide open, but the images were still pretty sharp and clean in the corners stepped up to f/2.8 but beyond that things got a little soft.

Does it perform the best here? No, but let’s be real: people don’t buy f/0.95 lenses for sharp images edge to edge at all apertures. They buy them for that super dreamy bokeh to draw attention to a subject that is very likely more centrally located in the frame. If it’s decently sharp there, that’s a win when the quality of the defocused area is nearly as important as what is in focus. While you can stop down with a lens like this, it’s not why you get one.

And speaking of those defocused areas, the bokeh on this lens is the reason to get it: it’s so dang nice. I did not notice any glaring rings or harsh spotting and only appreciated a soft, buttery goodness that the bokeh-addicts will absolutely love. I can see the Argus being used to create some incredibly dreamy portraits and even more interesting texture-driven and printable works of art.

The Apochromatic design of the lens supposedly ensures less color fringing and a much better color performance overall when compared to other fast lenses of similar focal length and aperture. This does not mean it will be sharper, only that you can expect better color accuracy in those extra shallow depth of field moments. Will there be vignetting when shooting wide open? Absolutely, but nothing unfamiliar and unexpected from a lens this shallow. The difference from the center to the corner edge is maybe about a stop of light when shooting closer objects and about two stops when shooting wide open for “landscape” images, but in both scenarios, the loss is easily recoverable in post.

Sample Images

Things I Liked

  1. Gorgeous bokeh
  2. Solid metal body and lens hood
  3. Smooth focus ring
  4. Sharper than I expected
  5. Chromatic abberation was minimal
  6. Great when set in a focus/aperture pulling kit for video
  7. Affordable price for a nifty fifty equivalent lens at f/0.95

Things I Didn’t Like

  1. Heavier than I expected for an APS-C lens
  2. Clickless Aperture ring seems like a cool idea, but is frustrating in practice
  3. The amount of focus throw is almost obscene
  4. Crooked Lens hood drove me crazy
  5. Great for video, iffy for still work

Super Bokeh, But Is It Useful For Still Work?

The Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO is the company’s first entry in its series of “high quality” lenses under the Argus branding. It seems like a fantastic lens for videographers and is definitely a good sign of things to come from the company. While there are a few things I did not enjoy about this lens — the tilted lens hood, the amount of focus throw, and the “loose” aperture ring that would occasionally mess up my shots — I still think it can be a fantastic addition to have in your APS-C kit. This opinion leans even more positive if you’re a video shooter. For photographers specifically, its quirks can be annoying, but perhaps worth it for the bokeh it produces.

Are there Alternatives?

This lens is rather unique in its positioning with its only real rivals being similar lenses from Mitakon and 7artisans which have pretty good reputations for the most part. Venus Optics claims its control of aberrations is superior and has many samples to back that up, but it will be up to you to decide based on the images I show here and any samples the company has shared.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, for the most part. If you are a hybrid shooter that does both video and stills, then the Laowa Argus CF 33mm f/0.95 APO lens would definitely be a welcome addition to your kit for only $500. On the other hand, if you focus solely on stills, there are other options out there with autofocus that will treat you better for “in the moment” and action-based shooting situations. You’ll just have to settle for f/1.4 or f/1.8 and miss out on some of that extra bokeh found here.

Sigma fp L Camera Review: Does Size Really Matter?

Making cameras is a tough gig. Every release demands to stand out from the crowd in some way. For the Sigma fp L, it’s turning heads by the remarkably compact size and resolution-dense full-frame sensor. Is it enough?

The Sigma fp L is barely wider than the lenses that get attached to it and sports a whopping 61-megapixel full-frame backside-illuminated sensor. It shares many of its other design aspects with the previous 24-megapixel fp model that debuted in 2019, and both have staked their claim as being the smallest and lightest full-frame cameras available today. With an increase of megapixels comes an increase in price, and the fp L is $800 more expensive at the time of publication: $2,500.

Build Quality and Design

When I first unboxed the Sigma fp L, I was immediately surprised at how great it looked and felt. It’s a compact-sized camera, but unlike any other small camera I’ve used, there’s some heft-to-size ratio happening which triggers my caveman brain into thinking it feels high quality. All the materials feel really nice as well, including the matte finish and the faux leather on the grip side. Almost all the buttons and switches have satisfying clicks, and the top dial has just the right amount of tension. There are two exceptions with the review unit I borrowed: the rear dial is a little sloppy for my taste and the down button on this dial feels notably softer than the other directions and doesn’t have a pronounced click.



Two omissions in the design would go on to annoy me almost every day of shooting, and that’s having no multi-controller joystick on the back and no tilting rear screen. Without a multi-controller, moving the focus point takes extra steps. To do so, you need to press down, press AEL, move the focus point around with the D-pad buttons, then press the center button or half-press the shutter to exit. Yes, you can use the touchscreen, but like any other touchscreen found on cameras, it’s imprecise and only applicable to slow-paced shooting situations.

Having no tilting rear screen is self-explanatory in why that’s frustrating. I’ll tell you, in practice, it’s as bad of an idea as it sounds. I’m flipping up and down my screen all the time on other cameras if I’m not using the viewfinder. It does make me question what Sigma’s motivation was here. Did the designers really mean to sacrifice something so obviously useful and commonplace just so the company’s marketing materials could say it’s the smallest full-frame interchangeable lens camera? At what length were these sacrifices made just to make the claim?

35mm, f/16, 1s, ISO 100
35mm, f/2, 1/200s, ISO 100

What sucks most about the Sigma fp L is that when feeling the weight, the materials, and the shape in your hands, all your senses tell you you’re are holding onto a special camera. Seeing how the modular pieces come together like the EVF-11 or HG-11 Hand Grip is really interesting and a finely executed concept. But then you turn it on.

Autofocus

The Sigma fp L supposedly has an upgraded autofocus system from the original fp which now includes 49 phase-detect autofocus points in addition to just the contrast-detection. I say “supposedly” because in practice, the Sigma fp L’s autofocusing is atrocious.

For moving subjects or non-moving subjects, AF-C is near unusable, and the quicker you learn that the quicker you can just use manual focus or AF-S and stop completely missing shots. As a bird photographer and someone who lives in 2021, I use AF-C on my cameras full-time. With the Sigma fp L, AF-C should not be an option because of its gross inaccuracy.

400mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 250 – manually focused (cropped)
767mm, f/13, 1/640s, ISO 640 – manually focused (cropped)

This leads to another issue: all the single-point focus area sizes — small, medium, and large — seem to act exactly the same. Each of them easily dismisses subjects in the foreground and time after time after time will simply focus on the background. It’s a little better when using the multi-point areas, but those require the subject to be a sizable portion of the frame with prominent isolation or it can be overlooked. Other than prioritizing “focus” or “release” with the autofocus, there’s no way to customize the tracking sensitivity and how much grab it has on objects.

In AF-S focus mode, things become more reliable but at the cost of not being able to keep up to date focusing if you or your subject move. Sure, this is how photography was done for a long time before AF-C more recently overcame its struggles, but this is a brand new camera and I expect much better.

400mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 1000 (cropped)
35mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 100

One thing this camera does right and deserves acknowledgment for is showing the focus peaking in autofocus. I wish all cameras did this.

Rolling Shutter

With no mechanical shutter built into the camera body, the Sigma fp L depends on the electronic shutter’s readout speed being fast enough to combat rolling shutter effects.

It fails at this spectacularly.

I have never seen a camera with this bad of a “jello” effect, ever. Even while handholding the camera with a wider 35mm lens and not panning or tilting to follow a subject, I can see each individual frame in a continuous burst look slightly different from the next as everything slightly warps just from the natural hand movement.

Once I started taking frames with the camera picking up a subject though, it’s truly game over as everything in the frame begins to slant heavily. It doesn’t stop there, because if the subject itself is moving and the camera is still, it can become detached from itself and produce some very weird effects.

100mm, f/6.3, 1/2000s, ISO 6400
560mm, f/9, 1/4000s, ISO 8000 (cropped)
560mm, f/9, 1/400s, ISO 800 (cropped)

With slow readout speeds and poor autofocus performance, I would not recommend anyone get the fp L for any type of action photography.

Overall Performance

The battery life can be looked at in one of two ways. Either it’s good that the 61-megapixel camera seems to press out a couple of hours worth of photography time for the smaller size of BP-51 battery it’s using, or it’s bad if you just look at the time the camera can stay active and compare that to the field. I had two batteries to use with the Sigma fp L and that regularly would give me around three hours of photography if I was mindful of saving battery where I could by turning the camera off.

One killer that could be addressed is the fact that when paired with a lens that features optical image stabilization, that stabilization never turns off unless the camera is off or it’s disabled on the lens. That means if I’m just walking around with the camera to my side, it’s going to crazy trying to stabilize all that movement all the time non-stop. Other cameras I’ve used will only power on the lens stabilization when the shutter is half-pressed and then turn itself off after 5 seconds or so of inactivity.

65mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 100
65mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 320
35mm, f/2, 1/400s, ISO 100

Another unfortunate quirk that popped out to me while using the camera was that after you shoot a photo, the leveling gauge and histogram will disappear until the buffer clears. Even with one RAW shot onto a UHS-II compatible card, this takes about 2.5 seconds to regain the monitoring.

Image Quality

While the Sigma fp L appears to be a letdown in many areas, one thing is clear to me and that’s in the end the sensor does produce some stunning images. The tonality of light, colors, dynamic range, and sheer megapixels to work with are all superb.

Working with the images in post-processing is a piece of cake as they can withstand lots of rough pushing and pulling. In tough lighting situations, such as strong contrast or the sun in the frame, there are smooth gradations and things don’t easily get jagged and clipped. There’s enough dynamic range to expose for highlights and recover the detailed shadows without becoming overly muddy.

Original photo
Highlight and shadow recovery sliders maxed out in Adobe Camera Raw.

Congratulations on Being Small, I Guess

All things considered, where the Sigma fp L slots into best would probably be landscape and travel photography. Anything that takes pressure away from autofocus and movement of the camera greatly increases the joy of using it. When I was going around with this camera photographing flowering plants or scenic views or self-portrait travel-esque stuff, it really wasn’t so bad, and the resulting images look great coming off the sensor. And if I really were away traveling, the small size is obviously a big plus.

More often than not though, some annoyance would creep into the day and if I owned the setup it wouldn’t take long for me to wonder if I made a mistake in not getting something else. That’s not somewhere your head should be after dropping $2,500.

35mm, f/3.2, 1/200s, ISO 100

Are There Alternatives?

As far as having a high-resolution full-frame sensor inside an interchangeable lens camera that’s this tiny, there’s nothing else that compares on the market. That being said, if you’re interested in the Sigma fp L it’s probably a good bet that the size is a big draw. For that, I can think of two other cameras to look at, however, each has greatly reduced megapixels.

The most obvious would be the Sigma fp. This camera launched in late 2019 and shares many aspects of design and functionality in common with the new fp L. The Sigma fp has a lower count 24-megapixel sensor and only contrast-detect autofocus among other subtler differences, but it is less expensive. For the right person, it’s possible the fp and fp L share the exact same features that are most valued.

The other option comes from Sony, where the company has released its own compact full-frame interchangeable lens camera since the original Sigma fp debuted. The Sony a7C is also down to 24 megapixels, but it’s also the smallest full-frame camera with in-body image stabilization — something the Sigma fp L lacks. For better or worse, it also uses the E-mount, which brings on a totally different set of compatible lenses.

Should You Buy It?

No. As stated above, the Sigma fp L is a truly unique camera with no real alternatives at the time of publication. If no concessions can be made — for example, your camera must be L-mount, it must be this small, it must be full frame, it must be 61 megapixels, and the actual performance of anything is secondary — then there is nothing else to discuss. However, after using the camera for a couple of weeks I believe the answer to be no. Any leeway you have in finding your next camera that’s kind of like the Sigma fp L in a few ways but not all is going to get you further with your money.

The Sigma fp L is flawed, but it’s not entirely a bad camera. There are aspects that I truly enjoyed about it, and for certain genres of photography like landscapes, it’s just a couple of features away from being excellent. If I were a pure landscape photographer and this was the only camera that existed, it wouldn’t be such a bad life. But this isn’t the only camera, and the other options out there that are more well-rounded in design and performance make the Sigma fp L hard to recommend.

Hasselblad 907X Review: Beautiful Photos, Frustrating Experience

Despite lots of gorgeous resolution and a beautiful solid metal design, the $6,400 Hasselblad 907X 50c is not without its problems. It lacks a traditional viewfinder and has noticeably slow autofocus.

It’s a system that took a fair bit of practice to get used to, but once you manage to figure out the camera’s quirks, you are sure to fall in love with the images you create with it. It’s up for debate if that effort is worth it in the end, as as much as the 907X gets right, frustrating design limitations hold it back from truly spreading its wings.

Design

Hasselblad’s latest medium format digital system is not only a throwback to the classic looking film systems of the companies early days, but also a beautiful metal 50-megapixel box that can operate as both a standalone digital system or as a digital back for classic Hasselblad V-System cameras that were made from 1957 and beyond. While it is slightly smaller than the other medium format bodies that the company has made in the past, it is still jam-packed with every feature you have come to expect from the Hasselblad name.

One of the first things you’ll notice about this system is the lack of a “traditional” viewfinder — electronic or optical — built into the camera. That said, there is an optional optical viewfinder for $499 that you can mount onto the system that has a fairly wide field of view and is detailed with markings for the XCD 21,30, and 45mm lenses to give you some idea for your image framing. It is definitely a neat-looking addition that adds a touch of flair to the system, but I didn’t find much use for it personally, even when shooting outdoors in bright light. In fact, shooting in bright light, in general, is tough with this camera.

If you’ve never shot with a top-down system before, the first few hours using this system can feel a tad awkward since you have to look at the rear touch screen display by holding it at eye level, or taking advantage of flipping the screen out a full 90 degrees to give you a little more flexibility with positioning. Luckily, I have been shooting with an old Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) system for a few years so the transition wasn’t hard to get used to. You can shoot this system using a shutter button located on the bottom corner of the camera much like traditional film systems, or by mounting an optional grip ($729) that provides you with four additional button, two dials, and a small joystick for more manual control over the system. Personally, I preferred using the grip to shoot since it allowed for much faster and easier setting changes.

The battery and dual SD memory card slots are found on the right side of the camera behind a “hidden” USB-C port on the left-hand side that is used to tether or charge the system. Under the touch display, there are a series of ports hidden under a rubber door that includes connections for headphones, mic, and flash ports. It is worth noting that while all of these connections and slots are hidden, there are zero claims of weather sealing anywhere on the product pages for this system. So if you plan on taking the 907X out in any sort of non-perfect weather, do so at your own risk.

Overall Performance

If you have ever used traditional TLR systems or any of the classic Hasselblad film cameras, using the 907X will feel quite familiar. If not, then it’s definitely going to shake things up and leave you with a bit of a learning curve to figure out, especially if you opt to use the camera without any of the optional accessories for added functionality.

Without the grip, you’ll notice there’s only one dial on the system that encompasses the shutter button on the front of the camera. By default, this will adjust the f-stop, but holding the small button on the opposite side of the camera down while spinning this dial will adjust your shutter speed. All other controls like ISO and shooting modes are only accessible via the touchscreen display on the back of the system. That’s not something that everyone will like, but the nice thing is the touch screen is incredibly responsive and smooth which makes even zooming in on image previews and moving forward/backward an absolute breeze.

The menu system on the 907X is actually quite refreshing. Compared to systems like Sony and even Nikon, the Hasselblad 907X menu is incredibly simplistic and easy to use. There are 5 buttons below the 3.2-inch touch screen with almost every function you need access to accessible by the touch functions. The menu is fully customizable letting you place your “favorites” in the order you’d prefer.

Another feature worth covering in this section is the Phocus 2 app for mobile devices. Connecting this system is incredibly easy and allows for some very handy camera controls if you decide to shoot it remotely. If you set it up, you can also download full-size JPEGs right to your phone or mobile device for fast client or social sharing.

There’s a lot of good things packed into this medium format system, but it is worth mentioning that battery life is not one of those things.

It is by no means the worst I’ve experienced and since many camera manufacturers are able to offer all-day life in batteries much smaller in size, I was hoping for even just a little more out of them. In the real working world, I would recommend having no less than two spare batteries with you so you’d not have to worry about a full day of shooting. This should let you keep a rotation of charged batteries going if you’re not in a position to plug the camera into a USB-C power source while on set.

The 907X can also shoot video. However, there is no stabilization available and the max resolution for video is 2.7K at 29.97fps which crops the image to 16:9. This crop was surprising to me given the native 4:3 ratio of the system for stills but, despite these not-so-impressive video specifications, the incredible colors you get from your stills also apply to your video. Just be sure to have things locked down on a tripod and pre-focused before you start shooting as even light jostling of the camera is extremely noticeable in the footage.

Image Quality And Dynamic Range

The photo quality is where things really stood out for me and my testing. The 907X system with the CFV II 50C is capable of capturing 50MP images at 8272 x 6200 pixels, which is significantly larger than a standard full-frame system but the sensor isn’t exactly new — It’s the same sensor as the X1D released in 2018.

Even without a brand new sensor, there’s just something about the colors that come out of this rig that are jaw-dropping. I’ve worked with a lot of systems over the years and there’s just something about the color you get out of the Hasselblad systems that I love. Maybe it boils down to personal editing style, but the image colors are almost exactly where I want them straight out of the camera, and I find they require very few adjustments.

The Hasselblad 907X has 14 stops of dynamic range available. While this was incredible at one point, it isn’t anything crazy anymore. However, what I found is the 907X will leave you with an incredible amount of detail in those recovered highlights and shadows to a degree that I feel exceeds expectations for those coming from full-frame or smaller.

While the camera can shoot from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600, there is a very noticeable grain present once you hit that ISO 6400 mark. It is not “bad” as it really reminds me of shooting on film, but be aware that the low-lit shots will have noise in them that is very visible.

RAW
Highlights and shadow recovered
RAW
Highlights and Shadows recovered by 100%

Autofocus

Once you get comfortable with the intricacies of the system, you’re bound to notice the first major “flaw” in this camera and that’s just how slow and noisy the autofocus is. The 907X with the CFV II 50C back will definitely force you to change the way you shoot. In a weird way, it is kind of like jumping back to film shooting after years of digital-only.

Unlike some of the other recent cameras I have been testing which have made speed and burst shooting a primary feature, the Hasselblad makes you slow down, stop, and really appreciate what you’re putting into the photo. Clearly, this system isn’t aimed at action shooters since you have to frame, adjust the ISO, shutter, aperture, and then adjust the focus before snapping the final shot.

This is not a deal-breaker in the grand scheme of things, but it’s definitely worth being aware of if you’re a shooter who needs faster autofocus for your work. The system isn’t really designed with a street photographer or action shooter in mind but is instead meant for more thought-out, planned shoots in controlled environments. I missed focus on so many photos just trying to photograph my dog while doing some testing with the system.

Sample Images

What I Liked

  • Discreet, vintage-looking system (if you leave off all the accessories)
  • Very responsive touchscreen
  • Mobile app is very easy to setup and use
  • Gorgeous color science and medium format image quality
  • Classic historic feel
  • Additional accessories increase “usability”
  • Modular design makes using with older systems easy and fun
  • Not exactly cheap, but still one of the more affordable modular Medium Format Systems on the market

What I Didn’t Like

  • Additional accessories are expensive
  • Very slow and noisy autofocus
  • Weak battery Life
  • Video features are available but very limited
  • Lack of a “true” viewfinder makes shooting outdoors in bright conditions difficult
  • Missing traditional hot/cold shoe mounts for accessories and triggers

For the Love of the Photos, Not the Experience

This system is aimed at a professional studio, fine art, and commercial photographer. The ideal customer is one who is looking to combine the unique look and shooting experience with photos that reach incredible quality. If money isn’t an issue, and you want to flex a retro style with your medium format digital system, then perhaps the Hasselblad 907X and CFV 50C should be on your radar.

For most everyone else though, as much good as the camera offers it has so many other major pitfalls. It’s expensive, slow, the battery life is poor, and while its design is great for use in a controlled environment like a studio, it’s not really good for anything else. It’s a bit frustrating, to be honest, and expensive: everything together without any lenses is going to cost around $7,500. The camera body retails for $6,400, the grip kit is an additional $730, and the optical viewfinder adds on $500 more. Adding lenses is going to rack that price up even higher.

What there is to like here is bogged down by other issues that come very close to souring the whole experience.

Are There Alternatives?

There are several other medium format systems available for a similar price including the $5,750 X1D II 50C, the $4,499 Fujifilm GFX 50R, the $5,499 Fujifilm GFX 50S, and then some Phase One XT & XF Medium format systems that range in price from from $6,000-9,000. All of these systems offer you a suite of capabilities and lenses that’ll let you capture nearly anything you want to shoot. Each brand can offer more options, and more expensive medium format systems as well should you really want to dive down that rabbit hole. Specifically, the X1D II solves some of the issues that plague the 907X by offering a dedicated viewfinder and more buttons, but it doesn’t fix the slow autofocus or the battery life.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of systems out there for you to choose from at very similar prices. The decision on what to buy boils down to your personal preference of design, color science, and specific features available within each system. One benefit the Hasselblad system has going for it is the ability to use older film bodies with the digital back, along with its wide variety of lenses, which should make it an easier decision if you have some of those cameras in your kit already.

Should You Buy It?

Probably not. The 907x is a fantastic-looking retro camera that is undeniably fun to shoot. Hasselblad should be commended for the design here, as medium format cameras rarely look this good. Additionally, if you already own Hasselblad cameras and lenses, want to do more with medium format systems, and want to do it in style, then yes, it can be recommended.

But there are not a lot of people that fit into that extremely tight niche.

The colors and detail of the raw files straight out of the camera are honestly some of the best I have ever worked with and shot on to date. But, to be fair, while the colors may not be as nice straight out of the camera, with proper lenses you can get just as much detail out of the similarly priced Sony Alpha 1, get a better overall experience out of any of the current Fujifilm GFX cameras, or save yourself a few thousand dollars and use the Nikon Z7 II.

Xencelabs Pen Tablet Review: Already Better than Wacom

What do you get when you take a bunch of former Wacom employees, start a new company, and give them carte blanche to develop a brand new pen tablet? What you get is Xencelabs, a new player in graphics that is bringing some much-needed innovation to a stale market. This is no cheap knock-off we’re talking about, Xencelabs’ new Pen Tablet Medium just put Wacom on notice.

For those of you who haven’t been following this space, it’s not that Wacom has been short of competition lately. XP-PEN and Huion in particular have been releasing high-quality pen tablets and pen displays at an alarming clip, while also charging a fraction of Wacom prices for a similar combination of core specs. We’ve reviewed a few of these products and have been duly impressed by what we found.

But both XP-PEN and Huion are very clearly Wacom knock-offs. They are high-quality knock-offs that offer similar performance for a lot less money, but knock-offs all the same. You can’t shake the feeling that you’re using a product designed to undercut Wacom, which usually means cutting a few corners when it comes to build quality, software, customer support, and extraneous features like wireless connectivity.

That’s where the Xencelabs Pen Tablet sets itself apart. It’s a true-blue competitor that meets or exceeds the most stringent build standards, adds some refreshing design elements, and checks all the professional-grade boxes.

Design and Build Quality

The Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is available in two different configurations: a standard kit that includes the tablet and two pens ($280), and a “bundle” that includes the tablet, two pens, and the Quick Keys express key remote ($360). Whichever configuration you choose, everything in the box simply oozes “premium” quality.

The Tablet

The tablet itself is built like a tank, with a 16:9 aspect ratio, a10.33 x 5.8-inch active area, and a few really neat little design cues that make it very comfortable to use.

The active area is marked off on the corners by lighted insets that can be customized to a color of your choice, the bottom tapers to a smooth edge so you can comfortably rest your drawing hand on the tablet without a sharp edge digging into your palm, and the three built-in express keys at the top allow you to quickly access the tablet settings, adjust pen pressure, or switch displays if you’re using the tablet with multiple monitors.

That last feature is particularly useful to me, as I’m frequently drawing on a laptop hooked up to a secondary display. At the touch of a button I can now toggle the tablet mapping between laptop only, main display only, or both.

The lights around the active area are also incredibly convenient, as they can be set to different colors for different apps, giving you a quick reference to ensure the right app/shortcuts are active.

Finally, the surface of the tablet itself was tooled to give you just the right amount of “bite.” It is enough so that it feels like you’re drawing on a natural surface instead of slick plastic, but not so much that you notice the resistance fighting you. The surface texture is very similar in feel to my Intuos Pro, and definitely superior to the other third-party tablets I’ve tested.

The Pens

The fact that Xencelabs includes not one but two different pens in the box is a brilliant move that further sets them apart from their main competition. The thick, traditional style pen includes three buttons while the thinner version has only two, but both include EMR erasers on the other end and they can be configured independently.

If you want the same from Wacom, you’ll need to drop an additional $70 on the Pro Pen Slim.

I mostly stuck to the thick three-button pen because it felt better in my hand and I like the extra customization, but I can imagine many users who will set up the pressure curves and shortcut keys of their two pens differently, and switching between them for different tasks. One pen for pen tool selections and another for brushwork, for example.

And since they both come in the same (very sturdy) pen case, it’s easy to keep everything together when you throw the tablet in your bag.

The Quick Keys Remote (Sold Separately)

If you decide to spend the additional $80 on the Pen Tablet Medium Bundle — and I suggest that you do — you’ll get all of the above plus the excellent Xencelabs’ Quick Keys remote.

The lack of traditional express keys on the Xencelabs Tablet is one of its few downsides, since the three customizable buttons at the top are not really meant to be used for common shortcuts. But for $360 — which is still $20 less expensive than the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium — you can get the tablet, both pens, and the Quick Keys Remote.

The remote features eight shortcut buttons, a multi-function adjustment dial with a light ring around it, and an OLED display that tells you what each button will do. The dial can be programmed to four different settings, each with its own light color, which you cycle through by pressing the button in the center. The OLED display, meanwhile, allows you to program up to 40 different shortcuts, cycling through a maximum of 5 sets of 8 shortcuts by pressing the button at the top of the remote.

Here, again, you see Xencelabs attention to every little detail: The customizable light color, the fact it takes full advantage of the screen, and you can even select from four different orientations depending on how you prefer to work.

As with the pens and tablet itself, the remote can be programmed differently for each app, with a different set of shortcuts, a different set of dial settings, and a different color scheme for each of those settings.

Everything about the design and built quality of this tablet and its accessories impressed me. I’ve used high-quality Wacom competitors before, but no product, not a single one, felt like Wacom’s equal until now. The materials that Xencelabs chose, the attention to every design detail, and the usability of all of the above sets a new bar for graphics tablet design.

Usability and Performance

Xencelabs attention to detail didn’t stop at build and design, as the company put a lot of thought and effort into usability and performance as well.

The guided setup is really simple. It automatically detects all connected devices and loads them into a beautiful interface that lets you customize everything about the tablet, pens, and Quick Keys remote to your hearts’ content.

However you choose to set things up, you’ll have the option of using the tablet plugged in or wirelessly via the included dongle. I’ll be honest, having to plug in a Logitech-like dongle to use the tablet wirelessly — when my computer already has bluetooth built right in — is a bit of a drag, but Xencelabs insists that this allows them to cut down on latency and ensure a stable connection.

I can buy that… and I can attest that I never had any connection issues when using the tablet wirelessly, which I did almost exclusively after the initial setup.

You will need to plug the tablet back in when it runs short on battery, but many hours of use over the course of one month has only drained the battery of my tablet and Quick Keys by about 50%, so battery life is really not an issue. In many ways, the connectivity, charging, and usability of the devices reminds me of my Logitech MX Master series keyboard and mouse. To borrow an overused phrase from Apple: it just works.

Performance was stellar. The tablet/pens boast an exacting pressure response that is extremely sensitive on the low end of the curve, and every built-in feature functioned as advertised. I even tested features I never use, like Mouse Mode, and nothing ever let me down.

In fact, from setup, through customization, through actually using the Xencelabs Pen Tablet as my main graphics tablet, I experienced only one major hiccup: in its current form, the tablet driver WILL NOT WORK if you have a Wacom tablet driver installed at the same time.

I’ve never run into this problem with any other tablet maker, but whatever the reason, you MUST delete your Wacom drivers before installing and using the Xencelabs tablet. Since many people are likely to be switching brands from Wacom if/when they buy this tablet, this is a very important point.

Xencelabs tells us they’re working on a proper fix, but before working with them to figure out my issues, the tablet was practically unusable. The cursor would jump between points, pressure sensitivity would fail, and some features would sometimes stop working outright. Hopefully by the time you receive your unit, this will be a moot point; until then, if you plan to use both Xencelabs and Wacom tablets on the same computer — even if you’re not using them at the same time — you’re going to have a bad time.

The only other “issue” I spotted is the lack of multi-touch functionality, something that Wacom does include in their Intuos Pro line. Honestly, I actually prefer not having touch functionality, since palm rejection fails as often as it succeeds on my Intuos, but your mileage may vary. If using multi-touch gestures to zoom or move along your canvas is important, you’re out of luck.

King of the Hill

As a reviewer, one of my jobs is to find the quirks and issues. I test features I don’t use, put the tablet through some frankly ridiculous tests, and exchange countless emails with Product Managers to make sure I’m not missing something. It makes me a bit of a pain as a reviewer, but it’s a good way to tease out the issues.

Usually, a first-generation product that tries to compete with the biggest player in the industry would fail in a few obvious ways, especially if it’s cheaper. Build quality, performance, customer support… something usually has to suffer. But that’s simply not the case here.

In every way that matters, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium meets or exceeds my expectations and shows that there is still room for innovation in the graphics tablet space.

Pros

  • Fantastic build quality
  • Creative new ergonomic design
  • Ships with two different pens and sturdy pen case
  • Professional-grade performance
  • Easy-to-use software with lots of customization options
  • Fantastic quick-keys remote with built-in screen

Cons

  • Tablet malfunctions if Wacom driver is installed
  • Quick-Keys remote sold separately
  • Only three built-in express keys
  • Wireless functionality requires separate dongle (included)
  • No touch/gesture functionality

Are There Alternatives?

Other than the elephant in the room, the main alternatives are the same tried and true names that come up in every graphics tablet review: XP-PEN and Huion. They’re not the only affordable third-party alternatives in the game, but they are the best, and the XP-PEN Deco Pro and Huion Inspiroy Dial tablets offer similar core features to the Xencelabs tablet and cost between $120 and $180 less.

You’ll get the same 8000+ levels of pressure sensitivity from a battery-free pen, built-in dials and express keys, and software that has never given this writer trouble. You’ll give up build quality, customer service is hit-or-miss, the included pens simply aren’t on the same level as Xencelabs or Wacom, and the XP-PEN Deco Pro does not feature any kind of wireless connectivity.

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely.

There’s no other way to put it: as I write this, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is the best medium-sized pen tablet money can buy. They’ve leapfrogged Wacom on their first try, leaving me very excited to see what they’ll do next.

Xencelabs already told us they have a pen display in the pipeline. In the meantime, I will be trading in my Intuos Pro, and keeping a very close eye on the updates from this company.

My Time with the Fujifilm X-E4

I’m not the first on the block to write about the Fujifilm X-E4, but I finally got around to doing it and I’m glad that I did.

Full disclosure: Fujifilm North America sent me the Fujifilm X-E4 free of charge along with the new 27mm f/2.8 II, thumb grip, and bottom plate hand grip, so basically the entire kit. However, there were no strings attached and I was not required to talk about the camera nor make any content with it.

I call this a review, but it’s hardly that. I do not review gear the same way others do. I don’t care about specs — I focus my direction in terms of user experience, so that’s how this is going to roll going forward.

The X-E4 is Fujifilm’s 5th camera in this series. You may be shaking your head wondering why it’s called the X-E4 and not the X-E5. Well, I’m going to tell you so just be patient. Originally this new camera line was named — can you guess? — the X-E1. No surprise there but then we had the X-E2 and then a variant of the second camera named the X-E2s which was surpassed by the X-E3.

The X-E3 was the first camera in this line to do away with the beloved D-pad. Oddly enough I rarely miss it nowadays and that’s just fine because the new X-E4 has carried over the tradition of the missing D-pad. In fact, the whole camera is extremely minimalistic in its approach. At first glance, this may seem problematic but after shooting it all week long, I hardly noticed the missing buttons and actually found it liberating to a degree.

Fujifilm’s X-E4 with the new 27mm and hot shoe thumb grip

The day before my getaway to sunny Sarasota, Florida, with my wife Nikki, three boxes arrive at my doorstep. The Fujifilm X-E4 and the 27mm lens in one, a thumb grip that attaches to the hot shoe in another, and in the last box a bottom plate which also has a substantial grip and Arca Swiss type tripod mount milled into the bottom portion. It allows easy access to the bottom trap door which houses the battery.

Sadly, this same trap door is used for the single card slot similar to the Fujifilm X100V, which is a shame because I found it extremely difficult to remove the SD card from its slot location while having the bottom plate grip attached.

One thing to note is that the thumb grip and bottom plate grip come at an extra cost, and they just might be needed because without them you are left hold what is basically a magnesium flat box similar to that of a Leica M or Leica Q. While speaking about the X100V, it’s only necessary to address the obvious: which do you buy? In my honest opinion, the two cameras couldn’t be more different even though they share similarities.

Straight-out-of-camera JPEG.

Some of that old teal and orange. Fuji XE-4 / 27mm

What Makes Them the Same?

Overall build quality. Yes, I’m aware the X100V is weather resistant and the X-E4 is not, but in terms of materials, they are the same. This was not always the case. When I owned my X-E3 and X-E2S they felt a bit on the plastic side. All that is gone now and the edges are just as refined with the X-E4 as they are with the X100V.

They house the same sensor, the 23.5mm x 15.6mm (APS-C) X-Trans CMOS 4, giving you 26.1 megapixels.

They are roughly the same size depending on what lens you attach to your X-E4. They both have flip-up screens and an EVF.

In every aspect they have a similar shooting experience.

What Makes Them Different?

Well, what most apparent is the X100V is a fixed 35mm focal length camera that utilizes a leaf shutter. The X-E4 is an interchangeable lens camera that uses a standard shutter.

The X100V has a hybrid optical and digital viewfinder an OLED screen with 3.69 million dots whereas the X-E4 uses only a Digital viewfinder which has an OLED screen with 2.36 million dots. Truth be told the difference to my eyes was negligible.

The X100V has a flip-out screen whereas the X-E4 has a full tilt screen which can be flipped 180 degrees to uses as a selfie screen.

The X100V has a built-in 4-stop ND filter which now is accessible in video and the X-E4 has none.

The X-E4 will shoot 30fps with a 1.25x crop. The X100V will spit out 20 fps with the same crop factor.

Both have similar video specs but again you’re limited with the X100V both is lens choice as well as screen display options. The X-E4 houses its ports on the left which includes the standard 3.5mm jack whereas the X100V has them on the right and uses an odd 2.5mm jack.

The X100V has a Manual, Continuous, and Single-shot switch on the body of the camera. This is not the case with the X-E4, where a menu dive is necessary or one must assign a custom function button.

The X-E4 has two custom function buttons if you count the AEL/AFL which can be assigned and one front control dial only which is clickable but you get three custom function buttons with the X100V as well as the assignable AEL/AFL button and both front and rear control dials.

The X100V has a built-in Flash and the X-E4 has… well, nothing!

17 Film Simulations with the X100V and the X-E4 will give you 18 with the addition of Eterna Bleach Bypass however both are missing the new Nostalgic Negative even though the X-E4 was released alongside the new GFX100S.

The X100V has a separate ISO dial within the shutter dial. Again the X-E4 requires a menu dive and a custom-assigned button for ISO changes. I use my AEL/AFL for this task.

I’m also enjoying the new menu style of the X-E4 where they have added color logos to the film simulations similar to that of the rear screen on the XPro3. They have also added a feature where you can simply update your film recipes much easier now with their “Auto Update Custom Setting” feature.

So now that I have broken my own rule by spewing out specs for each camera I need to sum up which to buy. Well… I’m not going to tell you that. That would be a personal choice dependent upon what and how you shoot. I’m certainly happy I have both but it’s going to be a hard sell for me to replace the X100V. In fact, most cameras will never be able to do that based on my shooting style, but I do see the value in the X-E4 and I think it’s worth its weight and a powerhouse in its own right.

I never found myself wanting or needing a different camera while dedicating myself to the X-E4 while vacationing for the week. The X-E4 would probably be better compared to the Fujifilm X-Pro line of cameras than that of the X100 series as it shares many of the same traits with that lineup.

ISO 6400 but what did you expect with this sensor….very clean indeed

Getting Cinematic with my Cinestill 800T preset and some added grain. X-E4 & 27mm

Read also: Hands-On First Impressions with the Fujifilm X-E4

Now Onward to the Glass

The 27mm f/2.8 II is new and improved? Well, yes if you consider weather resistance and an aperture ring a positive, which I certainly do. However, with that said and out of the way, your images are going to be the same with the original version of this lens. I have seen numerous first-gen 27mm lenses on sale so you may get one at a bargain price. If water resistance and the aperture ring are not important to you, then go for it. For me they were and the aperture ring was a biggie in my book.

I think this was one of the reasons I rarely used my old 27mm and it’s a shame because I absolutely love the 40mm effective focal length and the pancake profile is perfect for having a small camera rig to walk around with. I found the lens to be very sharp and exhibit very little distortion. Even though the lens has been updated, we are still getting the noisy focusing that we had in the previous version.

Downtown Sarasota with the XE-4 and 27mm combination
Downtown while enjoying a coffee watching people pass by. 27mm & X-E4

I will leave you with a few snaps I took with the Fujifilm XE-4 while on vacation.

Straight from the X-E4 using WiFi transfer will at the beach on Lido Key, Florida’s West Coast. 2021

Overall I found the camera to be extremely responsive and a perfect companion for a day out on the streets. Small enough to place in a bag or large sweatshirt pocket when having the tiny 27mm attached.

I found the 27mm a great all-around lens. Wide enough for street (being close to a 35mm focal length) and also close enough to 50mm to offer some subject isolation and portrait snaps. If one is lucky enough to own the Fujifilm X-E4, you would be hard-pressed to find yourself in a situation where this camera would not perform in a way that you expect it to.


About the author: Joseph D’Agostino is a wedding, event, family, and portrait photographer based in New Jersey. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of D’Agostino’s work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Review: Blackmagic Web Presenter HD streaming encoder + shyness fixer

This is my review on Blackmagic’s new “Web Presenter HD”, more appropriately called a standalone web encoder. Who needs a standalone web encoder? I suppose it’s anybody who wants to webcast live —or someone who wants to perform live broadcast contribution to a TV studio or TV station via the Internet as part of a TV show, and doesn’t have an appropriate encoder internally. Either way, a standalone web encoder can be connected to the output of a video mixer (switcher) which lacks a built-in encoder… or a software based video mixer whose computer is too busy —or not powerful enough to handle the task well without overheating and/or dropping frames. Of course, it could also be any standalone camera without built-in streaming capabilities. Despite its inappropriate name, the new “Web Presenter HD” from Blackmagic is a very interesting standalone web streaming encoder for under US$500. But wait: Did I bury the lead? The Blackmagic Web Presenter HD can even fix certain types of shyness from a camera or a switcher (while it’s doing its official task of encoding and streaming)! Here’s my review, with a refresher of the three types of shyness. I’ll also cover everything I like… and six things I hope Blackmagic will improve via a firmware update someday soon.

Review: Blackmagic Web Presenter HD streaming encoder + shyness fixer 22

Conditions of this review

Blackmagic lent me the Web Presenter HD for a few weeks to do my tests and I have already returned it to them.

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Refresher about the three types of “shy” camera situations over HDMI or SDI

Although I more frequently cover these “shy” situations with cameras, some of them apply to video mixers (switchers) too.

 

Type 1: PsF (progressive segmented frame)

I am separating PsF (progressive segmented frame) into three subcategories:

  1. When the shy camera is set to image (and sometimes also to record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex NTSC regions) like ≈29.97p, it sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as ≈59.94i. To be more specific, it takes each progressive frame and segments it into two artificial fields, each with half of the original pixel resolution and each with 540 intertwining lines to add up to the original 1080. Unlike true 1080i —where each field can potentially have different temporal (time) information when there is movement, with PsF the temporal information of each artificial field is always identical.
  2. Similarly, when the shy camera is set to image (and record internally) with a common progressive framerate (in ex PAL regions) like 25p, it sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 50i.
  3. The third PsF case is very rare nowadays and never happens with HDMI, but only with some SDI and with very expensive cameras, where with the ≈23.976p (aka ≈23.98p) rate the camera sadly outputs the signal as PsF (progressive segmented frame), in other words, disguised as 47.952. (In the case of HDMI, shy 1080p cameras in ≈23.976p use a telecine method with a 2:3 (aka 3:2) pulldown explained ahead.) This rare case is outside of the scope of this article.

Type 2: Telecine with pulldown

To make the ≈23.976 fit in a more standard ≈59.94i television rate in NTSC and ex-NTSC regions, telecine performs a complex assignment to make pieces of the original frames “fit” into ≈59.94 fields, some of which contain the same temporal information and others don’t.

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This is illustrated in the above graphic, which I created in 2008 to illustrate my very first article in ProVideo Coalition magazine. The instructions for the pulldown (i.e. “Put the first progressive frame in both fields of the first interlaced video frame. Now, put the second progressive frame in both fields of the second video frame in the first field of the third video frame, then…”) seem as twisted as the Twister game which dates back to 1966. This is sometimes called pulldown.

 

Type 3: Doubling of progressive frames per second

When set to image and record ≈29.97p, some shy 1080p cameras double the number of frames per second to ≈59.94 progressive frames per second on the HDMI or SDI output. Similarly, when set to image and record 25p, they duplicate the output framerate to 50p (50 progressive frames per second) over HDMI or SDI. As long as your hardware can accept high progressive framerates like 1080/50p and 1080/≈59.94p (i.e. more recent models like the UltraStudio Recorder 3G, ATEM Mini, ATEM Mini Pro, ATEM Mini Pro ISO), this is the easiest type of shyness to solve, and doesn’t require the video mixer (“switcher”) developers/manufacturers to do anything special, as several already have at my request to properly resolve PsF and telecine while retaining all of the original image quality. To solve type 3 shyness, the user/operator should simply set the camera menu and the session in the video mixer (or output rate in a standalone web encoder like the “Web Presenter HD” from Blackmagic) for the desired delivery framerate (1080/25p or 1080/≈29.97p) and the device or software will simply skip half of the repeated progressive frames per second, as long as we tell the target device to use only 25p or ≈29.97p. This can be done with all Blackmagic ATEM Mini switchers that accept a custom XML (i.e Pro and higher), that’s the way you tell it that, in order to correct the Type 3 shyness on the input.

With the Web Presenter HD, it’s even easier to solve Type 3 Shyness: You simply tell it that in a pulldown menu, as I’ll demonstrate in this article. I’ll also cover how to do it with other types (1 and 2) but only in a very specific situation.

 

The reality of streaming in 2021: Why not stream 4K live…

Even though many available cameras offer 4K UHD, in most cases in 2021, it’s not feasible to live stream 4K UHD yet (even if you really wanted to do that). This is both because of bandwidth issues (your Internet upload speed) and platform capabilities. I’ll cover some popular services in alphabetical order:

  • Facebook Live now supports 1080p (after only supporting 720p before) according to this official page. In fact, Facebook now prefers we send 1080p, not 720p.
  • Google Hangouts is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
  • Google Meet is currently limited to 720p according to my research.
  • Google’s YouTube Live supports up to 4K UHD according to this official page if your equipment and your upload speed allow it. It also accepts 1080p and lower.
  • Skype supports 1080p, at least Skype for Business does.
  • Vimeo Pro live and Vimeo Enterprise live support up to 1080p.
  • Zoom.us supports 1080p with Business, Education or Enterprise accounts but must be enabled by Zoom Support. Zoom.us also supports 720p for Pro, Business or Enterprise accounts without requesting it from Zoom Support. This is per this official site.

Often in 2021, we simply want to stream at 1080p or 720p, without any local recording or ISO recording. As stated in the introductory paragraph, many standalone video mixers/switchers don’t have any inboard encoder. In the case of a software video mixer like Ecamm Live (covered in many articles) or vMix, it is often too demanding on a single computer to switch cameras, connect remote video guests, do picture-in-picture, add lower thirds, chroma key) so it is often better to delegate the encoding task to an external, standalone device like the “Web Presenter HD” from Blackmagic I am covering in this article.

Introducing the “Web Presenter HD”

The “Web Presenter HD” is a new, standalone web encoder with a retail price of US$495. I say that it is standalone in general operation, although it must be connected to a computer during initial setup to add credentials to a particular live streaming platform (i.e. Facebook, Twitch, Twitter/Periscope, YouTube or even Restream.io for simulcasting on multiple platforms) or to perform firmware updates, as I’ll cover ahead. It weighs 750 grams (1.66 pounds) and measures 17.5 x 14 x 4.45 centimeters (6.9 x 5.51 x 1.75 inches) which also makes it fit in half of a rack mount, if desired. (For that, Blackmagic offers the optional Teranex Mini Rack Shelf for US$109.)  The Web Presenter HD can be powered either via 12 volts DC (1 x 4-Pin XLR) or via 100-240 volts AC (21 watts) via a standard mains cable using a standard NEMA 5-15R Input. Please note that —like some other AC-powered Blackmagic devices, no AC mains cable is included with the Web Presenter HD: This is presumably to make it universal, with a single version to be distributed worldwide.

Unlike all of the ATEM Mini switchers available as of March 2021 (of which none can accept any type of 4K signal on their inputs), the Web Presenter HD can fortunately accept 4K UHD formats in its input, although its encoded output will be downscaled to 1080p or lower. In fact, the 4K input capability represents one of two different ways that the Web Presenter HD can solve shyness, as I’ll cover ahead. The video input from your source (i.e. video mixer/switcher or camera) is SDI only. If your source only offers HDMI, you can convert it to SDI with an inexpensive converter box, which can be from Blackmagic or another brand of HDMI-to-SDI converters.

The Web Presenter HD can connect to the Internet via two possible connections.

  • Via RJ-45 ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT (aka gigabit ethernet) in the rear. This is the one I used in my test for this review.
  • Via USB-C in the front to a smartphone using tethering (or via an adapter to Lightning) so it works with Android and iOS at least.

With the available presets, you can encode at the following bit rates:

  • HyperDeck High 45 to 70 Mb/s
  • HyperDeck Medium 25 to 45 Mb/s
  • HyperDeck Low 12 to 20 Mb/s
  • Streaming High 6 to 9 Mb/s
  • Streaming Medium 4.5 to 7 Mb/s
  • Streaming Low 3 to 4.5 Mb/s

You will notice that each setting has 2 data rates mentioned. The lower number is used for the lower frame rates like ≈23.976p, 24p, 25p and ≈29.97p, while the higher data rates are used when you are running higher frame rates of 50p and ≈59.94p. It’s also worth noting that the default setting for the streaming quality is Streaming High 6 to 9 Mb/s. That is the one I used during my testing with Francisco Javier Arbolí, since we first tested the ascending (upload) speed in his studio as being about 11 Mb/s. Note that even though Blackmagic has carried over the names of these preset names from other devices (like the ATEM Mini Pro and ATEM Mini Pro ISO) which can record, the Web Presenter HD does not offer recording (at least not with the current firmware).

In addition to the inboard 2.2 inch display, which shows very basic status information of a live broadcast, much more information is available via the HDMI output which I connected to an external monitor.

Changes compared with the original “Web Presenter”

The original “Web Presenter” from Blackmagic (which I have not reviewed) is quite different from the new “Web Presenter HD”. The original “Web Presenter” still exists for US$395. However, the original “Web Presenter” is not a standalone encoder for the Internet. Instead, it accepts video sources over HDMI or SDI and delivers them to a computer. The original “Web Presenter” does not have any RJ-45 connector and is not appropriate for most of the uses I am covering in this article. Unlike the included front panel with the new “Web Presenter HD”, with the original one, the front panel is optional at extra cost.

The new “Web Presenter HD” can indeed also be connected to a computer and appear as a webcam to web conferencing applications like Skype and Zoom.us as the original “Web Presenter” does. This can allow a standalone camera or video switcher with SDI output to connect to those services. In fact, the “Web Presenter HD” can also help solve shyness as covered ahead even in that mode when feeding Skype or Zoom.us.

How to set up one of the preset streaming platforms in your “Web Presenter HD”:

  1. Connect your Web Presenter to your computer (temporarily) via USB.
  2. Copy your stream key from your desired service (i.e. Facebook, Twitch, Twitter/Periscope, YouTube or even Restream.io for simulcasting on multiple platforms).
  3. In the Blackmagic Web Presenter Setup utility (which you can download free from BlackmagicDesign.com/support), go to the “live stream” page.
  4. Select the same platform where you copied in step 2, set it as primary and paste your stream key. Click Save.
  5. Disconnect the USB cable so the Web Presenter HD can be standalone.

NOTE: You could also add additional streaming platforms (i.e. Vimeo Live) to the Web Presenter HD by creating a custom XML file. However, I am not covering those details in this article.

Front panel buttons and knob

The front panel controls let’s us start and stop streaming and change settings. Here’s an explanation of each button.

 

On Air – To start streaming, simply press the ON AIR button. The button will highlight red while streaming on air.

Off – Pressing the ‘off’ button stops the stream.

Menu – Is to to open the settings on the LCD. Then the knob is used together with the buttons to change any setting

Call – This feature will be enabled in a future update, according to Blackmagic.

Lock – If you press and hold this button for 1 second, it locks the panel. This disables the buttons, preventing anyone from accidentally going on air or stopping a stream. The button illuminates red when active. Pressing and holding for 2 seconds unlocks the panel.

 

Internal LCD display

The internal LCD display shows some key information, but not nearly as much as what we’ll see in the next section. Here is what you can see on the internal LCD display:

 

Duration Counter – Shows the current duration of your live stream. The counter starts when you press the ‘on air’ button.

Data Rate – Shows the data rate of the encoder whether or not your Presenter HD is streaming. You can connect your video source to an input and quickly see the bit rate required to stream your live video feed.

Internet Connection – A small icon is displayed when your Web Presenter HD is connected to the network.

Cache – Shows the percentage of Web Presenter HD’s built in memory cache that is currently in use.

On Air Status – A bright red on air indicator will be displayed when your live stream is running. When the unit is standing by ready to start streaming OFF will be displayed. A flashing red and white on air indicator means that there has been an interruption during the stream, such as a slow internet connection.

Audio Meters – Displays the audio levels of the video source connected to the Web Presenter HD.

Internal Video Monitor – Displays the input video source that is connected to the Web Presenter HD.

Internet Connection Icons:

  • A blue Ethernet icon is displayed when an ethernet cable is connected and the Ethernet connection will be used for streaming.
  • A red ethernet icon is displayed when on air and streaming via ethernet.
  • A blue smartphone icon is displayed when a tethered smartphone’s internet connection will be used for streaming.
  • A red smartphone icon is displayed when on air and streaming via a tethered smartphone.

 

Output for an external monitor

The monitor output (HDMI or SDI) is divided into eight panels and lets you see everything about the video source and the stream: audio levels, on air status, encoded data rate and cache levels, plus technical information about the SDI input. During my tests, I connected the Blackmagic Presenter HD to a 1920×1080 HDMI monitor. All of the photographs you see on that monitor, I shot at Francisco Arbolí’s studio where I made the tests using my Moto G Power (2020), known outside of the US as Moto G8 Power.

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Ahead are the eight panels you can see on the external monitor: In the above photo, the stream key has been sanitized for security reasons. Click on it to see it larger, if desired.

 

On Air Status

Prior to broadcasting, the on air status indicator will display OFF to let you know Web Presenter HD is standing by and ready to stream. When streaming begins, the indicator will display a bright red ON AIR status until streaming is stopped. (In my Suggestions to Blackmagic section, I’ll have information about the Castilian translation of this term ON AIR, since currently, Blackmagic has left this sign in English even if you select the menu to other languages.) Even though operators of the Webcam Presenter HD will understand the term ON AIR, often their clients will not. Underneath the on air indicator is the duration counter. When you press the ON AIR button on the Web Presenter HD, the duration counter will start running.

Live Stream

The live stream panel displays information about your live stream settings. This includes the streaming platform, server and the first 10 digits of your streaming key. It also displays the stream spatial resolution, temporal resolution (framerate) and quality settings.

Video Input

The 5 mini viewers at the top of the video input panel show the previous 6 seconds of your live stream, each mini viewer represents 1.2 seconds of streaming time. Below the mini viewers you can view detailed technical information about the video input source connected to your Web Presenter HD’s SDI input.

Input Standard

Displays the resolution and frame rate of the SDI video input. Web Presenter HD supports up to 2160p≈59.94 (or even the uncommon 2160p60) on the input.

Colorimetry

Shows the color space of the SDI video input. The Web Presenter HD supports Rec.601, Rec.709 and Rec.2020 color spaces.

SDI Ancillary Data

Ancillary data is optional, additional data carried in the SDI video input that is in addition to video. This includes embedded audio, timecode and closed captions. If your SDI input includes ancillary data then Present will be displayed.

Timecode

Displays the timecode from the SDI video input source.

Closed Captions

If your SDI video input includes Closed Captions, the format will be displayed here. CEA-608 and CEA-708 formats are supported.

SMPTE 292 CRC

This is an error checking function for SDI video. If your Web Presenter HD detects a problem in the SDI video input, it will display an error. CRC errors are usually caused by a faulty SDI cable or a cable that is too long.

Luminance Y Bits and Chroma Bits

The indicators for ‘luminance y bits’ and ‘chroma bits’ show you the activity of the SDI video input signal. Each letter represents the state of one bit of the video signal.

X – An ‘X’ indicates a constantly changing bit.

L – A low bit.

H – A high bit.

SDI offsets are subtracted to make it easy to understand. For example, all bits are low when video is black.

Generally, all 10 bits for your SDI video input will show ‘X’ to mean all the bits on your video stream are changing constantly. If your SDI input is derived from 8 bit video, the two rightmost bits will always be ‘L’ as they don’t have any data. If a bit stays ‘L’ or ‘H’ when you expect it to be ‘X’, this indicates a ‘stuck bit’ and could be the result of a fault in the upstream video.

Audio Input

The audio waveform display at the top of the audio input panel shows the audio information for the past 6 seconds of your live stream. This is continually updated and scrolls from right to left. Below the audio waveform display you can view detailed technical information about the audio input.

Sample Frequency

Displays the sampling frequency rate of the audio embedded in the SDI input.

Emphasis

Indicates if your audio source has its emphasis option enabled.

Audio Source Lock

Indicates whether the audio source frequency is locked to an external reference source.

Word Length

Shows the bit depth of the audio embedded in the SDI input. Origin These four characters indicate the channel origin.

Timecode

Time of Day or Free run

Audio Bits

Shows the bit activity in the audio samples embedded in the SDI connection. Even if the audio channel status says you have 16, 20 or 24 bit audio, the audio bit activity will confirm it.

VUCP Reading

VUCP bits from left to right: the ‘V’ bit indicates ‘valid’,

‘U’ is the ‘user’ bit, ‘C’ is the ‘channel status’ bit, and ‘P’ is for ‘parity’. This field is like ‘audio bits’.

Sample Address

Audio sample counter.

AUX Bits Use

Indicates whether AUX bits are used for main audio.

Audio Channels 1-32 Each digit represents an embedded audio channel on the SDI input.

A ‘P’ shows that an audio channel is in use and a ‘-’ means that there is no audio on that channel.

Data Rate Display

The data rate display shows the current data rate of the encoder over the past 60 seconds. The data rate is measured in megabits per second. This indicator runs consistently, even when off air, so you can accurately gauge your bandwidth before going on air.

Cache Display

The cache display shows the percentage of the Web Presenter HD’s built in memory buffer that is currently in use and the graph shows the amount used over the past 60 seconds.

The cache is a small amount of internal memory that continuously records and plays the program output. It acts as a safety measure if the streaming data rate decreases below a level able to sustain video.

The variable nature of the internet is mostly due to network activity or wireless signal strength, so if the broadcast data rate decreases, the buffer data will increase accordingly. If the connection speed becomes slow enough that it cannot support the video stream, the cache will fill with video frames to compensate. However, once the cache is 100% full, the video stream will be compromised, so you will want to avoid a full cache where possible. You can run a test by connecting a video feed and watching the cache display in the monitor output without having to start the stream. If the cache frequently approaches 100%, you can choose a lower quality in the live stream settings.

Audio Meters

You can monitor the levels of your audio source using the audio meters. These can be set to display either PPM or VU levels in the Web Presenter HD’s menu settings. If your audio levels are too high, the meters will illuminate red and may mean that the audio in your live stream could become distorted or clipped.

My general observations from the experience

I connected the Web Presenter HD via USB to a computer running macOS Catalina. I found it quite straightforward to get the stream key from a CDN (Facebook in my test), paste it into the Web Presenter HD software on macOS, save it, disconnect the USB cable and use the then standalone Web Presenter HD box to stream from a 1080p source over SDI. 

Ways the Web Presenter HD can solve shyness

There are two different ways that the Web Presentar can currently solve shyness:

  1. From 1080p sources (Type 3 shyness only, which I personally tested)
  2. From Types 1, 2 and 3 from shy cameras (or video mixers/switchers) as long as they output 4K. (I didn’t have a chance to verify this personally with the Web Presenter HD, but it should work perfectly, as I demonstrated in this article.)

How the Web Presenter HD can solve Type 3 shyness from a 1080p source

I happened to know in advance that the 1080p source I was planning to use is shy, since from previous experience, I knew that the Sony PXW-X70 is shy when shooting at 1080p25 or 1080p≈29.97. Specifically, the Sony PXW-X70 suffers from Type 3 shyness in these framerates, which you may recall from an earlier section of this article or a prior one.

Review: Blackmagic Web Presenter HD streaming encoder + shyness fixer 26
In the above photograph, the stream key has been sanitized for security reasons.

In this case, we set the camera to shoot 1080p≈29.97 and (as expected) the camera duplicated the output frames over SDI to be 1080p≈59.94. As explained in prior articles, duplicating the frames to be encoded is a terrible waste of bandwidth, whatever amount of upload bandwidth is available to stream. So to solve the shyness in this case, I simply selected an encoding framerate of ≈29.97p. The math is simple. Since the Web Presenter HD was receiving ≈59.94p and was only supposed to encode and stream ≈29.97p, the Web Presenter HD simply ignored half of the incoming frames. In the above screenshot, you’ll see that the Web Presenter HD received the double framerate, but fulfilled my request and only streamed half, back to ≈29.97p.

We could have done the same with 1080p25 and set the Web Presenter HD to stream at 25p. It would have received 50p and then eliminated half of the frames to make it 25p again.

How the Web Presenter HD can (indirectly) solve Types 1,2 and 3 shyness from a 4K source

As covered in prior articles, I have fortunately discovered so far that all 4K signals over HDMI or SDI are immune from shyness and (in my experience so far) always deliver the desired framerates without the shyness nonsense which still plague many 1080p cameras and video mixers/switchers. So set your camera to shoot 4K at the desired framerate, be it ≈23.976p, exact 24p, 25p or ≈29.97p. Then set your Web Presenter HD to encode and stream at that same desired framerate while downscaling the 4K signal to 1080p (or 720p if required). Of course you can only do that if your camera or video mixer/switcher has 4K capabilities. I am glad we can do this method of solving shyness with 4K cameras with the Web Presenter HD. I wish we could use the same method with ATEM Mini series products, but we can’t yet —at the publication date of this article, since as of now, none of the ATEM Mini series can accept 4K on the inputs the way the Web Presenter HD fortunately can.

Suggestions for Blackmagic to improve the Web Presenter HD via a firmware update

  1. If the current hardware permits it, please add H.265 compression as a menu option. So far, you are using H.265 in other products that encode 4K. However, H.265 is also quite helpful for 1080p applications.
  2. If the current hardware permits it, please add a menu option to Treat 1080i source as PsF, to solve Type 1 shyness and perform 2:2 reverse telecine in this case, recombining the segmented frames into whole frames.
  3. If the current hardware permits it, please add a similar option to Treat source as 2:3 Pulldown and perform 2:3 (aka 3:2) reverse telecine in this case.
  4. Please localize/translate the term ON AIR in the specific languages you offer. This will very much impress your users’ clients, especially since those clients often don’t understand the term ON AIR, even though operators often do. I’ll gladly provide the proper translation for Castilian for Spain versus in the Americas if you ask me. It’s slightly different in the two regions.
  5. Please correct the current mistranslation of the word Rate in Castilian (aka “Spanish”) to be the correct term Tasa instead of the inappropriately translated Velocidad both in the UI and in the manual. That’s Tasa with an s, since Taza with a z refers to a cup, like a coffee cup or tea cup.
  6. I am grateful that the Web Presenter HD can display its user interface in different languages, including Castilian (castellano), the language of my award-winning CapicúaFM show and many of my published books. However, Blackmagic has sadly fallen into the trap of calling the Castilian language “Spanish” (“español”) as you’ll see in the photograph below. Blackmagic, please fix the Language menu to display the proper name of the Castilian language: castellano. There are currently six (6) official languages in Spain, and all of them are Spanish languages (in plural). These six (6) Spanish languages are protected by Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, by the respective constitutions of five other countries and by Federal law in Chile. By inaccurately naming the language as “Español”, Blackmagic is acting as an accessory after the fact to the linguicide (linguistic genocide) crimes attempted in the 20th century, and is even breaking the law in at least seven (7) countries where the Castilian language is protected by local legislation. For more details, please see my book The Castilian Conspiracy, which is the English adaptation. The original is available in Castilian as  La conspiración del castellano.

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Above are the two mentioned books which contain all of the irrefutable proof.

 

Ratings

 

Appearance and Build Quality

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Ease of operation

Review: Blackmagic Web Presenter HD streaming encoder + shyness fixer 29

 

Capability of downscaling from 4k to 1080p or lower, which indirectly solves Types 1, 2 and 3 shyness

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Capability of solving Type 3 1080 shyness

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Capability of solving Type 1 & 2 1080 shyness

(zero with current firmware)

 

Translation/Localization

Review: Blackmagic Web Presenter HD streaming encoder + shyness fixer 33

(The word Rate is currently mistranslated to Castilian. See suggestion 5 in the article.)

 

Language Menu

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See suggestion 6 in the article.

 

Conclusions

The Blackmagic Web Presenter HD is a good solution to a need that many webcasters experience when their single cameras or video mixer/switcher doesn’t have a good inboard encoder. In the case of software video mixers/switchers like Ecamm Live Pro or vMix, the Web Presenter HD is welcome when the host computer is not powerful enough to handle the web streaming in addition to all of their other tasks. Although not promoted by Blackmagic, the Web Presenter HD is also very capable of solving shyness in many situations, as I covered in detail in the article. I would certainly recommend the Web Presenter HD despite its unusual name.I know that it will be an even better product if Blackmagic accepts even some of the six suggestions I made in this article.

 

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FTC disclosure

No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan Tépper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article or the mentioned books. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted Tépper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan Tépper review units, including Blacmkagic (although this one was a loaner). So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur , BeyondPodcasting CapicúaFM or TuSaludSecreta programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs. Allan Tépper’s opinions are his own. Allan Tépper is not liable for misuse or misunderstanding of information he shares.

Copyright and use of this article

The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalitionmagazine are copyright Allan Tépper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen

Here is my detailed review of the ≈US$200 Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with the ≈US$20 Shure A7WS windscreen. In all of my history of reviewing microphones, this is the first time when more than a year has passed between the product’s announcement and its initial delivery. Samson first announced the Q9U at CES in January 2020. That’s the same month when I published my first look article about it. Ironically, I actually published reviews of two other Samson microphones between then and now: the Samson Q9U and the Samson Satellite. Now I finally get to review the Samson Q9U. As I did in 2019 with the Samson Q2U and Q8X, I’m doing it with a third-party windscreen, although not the A81WS windscreen I used those two times, since the A81WS would never fit the Q9U. This time it’s the A7WS, which is actually a third lower in price than the A81WS. Ahead are my observations, screenshots, photos and audio recordings made with this interesting combination, both via XLR and USB.

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 14
Photo I took of the Samson Q9U on the PL-2T boom with A7WS windscreen, using the Moto G Power (2020) Android phone, known as Moto G8 Power outside of the United States.

 

Multiplatform compatibility

As stated earlier, the Q9U has an XLR output and a USB-C. As a dynamic mic, the Q9U does not require any external power to be used with the XLR output. With the USB-C connection, Samson officially offers the Q9U to be compatible with iOS, macOS and Windows. All of my published test recordings you’ll hear ahead are made with a laptop running macOS Catalina 10.15. This applies to both the XLR recordings and the USB recordings. I also tested the Q9U with my current Chromebook and with my Android phone. Fortunately, the Q9U was properly recognized and made proper 48 kHz recordings in both the Chromebook and in the Android phone. I don’t know why Samson does not flaunt these important virtues.

 

Published specifications

  • Element Type: Dynamic
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz–20kHz
  • Polar Pattern: Cardioid
  • Electromagnetic Hum Sensitivity (no weighting)
    • 60 Hz: 24 dBSPL/mOe
    • 500 Hz: 24 dBSPL/mOe
    • 1 kHz: 27 dBSPL/mOe
  • Impedance: 250Ω
  • Sensitivity XLR:  -57 dBV/Pa (1 kHz)
  • Sensitivity USB:  -16 dBFS/Pa (0 dB gain, 1 kHz)
  • Max. SPL: >140 dBSPL
  • Bit Depth/Sample Rate: 24-bit, up to 96 kHz (including 48 kHz, see details ahead)
  • Digital Output: USB-C
  • Headphone Output/Impedance: 3.5mm (⅛”) / 32Ω (usable only when connected via USB)
  • Headphone Power Output: 38mW @ 32Ω
  • Controls: Mute Switch (see details ahead), Low Cut Filter Switch, Mid Presence Boost Switch
  • Body Construction / Grille: Zinc Alloy / Steel
  • Accessories: 2m USB-C to USB-C cable, USB-C female to USB-A adapter, foam windscreen
  • Microphone Dimensions: 178.5 mm x 60mm (diameter) (7″ x 2.4″)
  • Weight: 0.97 kg (2.13 lb)

 

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 15
Photo courtesy of Samson

 

 

Available sampling rates and resolutions (USB mode)

I am happy with the variety of sampling rates and resolutions available in the Q9U, although I only tested using our standard 48 kHz/24-bit (see Enter the 48 kHz alliance).

The Q9U can sample to 96 kHz/ 24-bit. (96 is exactly 48×2.) I could only justify recording such a high sampling frequency for vocal recordings if you plan to use slow motion as you edit your audio recordings (or audio/video recordings). In addition to our standard 48 kHz and the whopping 96 khz, the Q9U also offers 44.1 kHz (which I would never use for the reasons stated in Enter the 48 kHz Alliance).

As I have covered in prior articles, to set your audio sampling on Android or iOS, simply select it in any of the recording apps that offer such an audio sampling selection (i.e. Auphonic, FiLMiC Pro, FV-5 Cinema) or use an app that uses 48 kHz exclusively, like the RØDE Reporter app. (Stay away from the native camera app or GarageBand, which only support 44.1 kHz, which is kryptonite for video production.)

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 16

On macOS, first select in the Audio MIDI Setup (illustrated above) and then in your desired recording app,

 

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 17

 

which must not be GarageBand. See my 2015 article 48 reasons why GarageBand is kryptonite for video production (illustrated above).

 

Bulletproof and strong latency-free monitoring (USB mode only)

The Q9U’s 3.5 mm jack for monitoring is designed to be used with either TRS stereo headphones… and even works properly with TRRS headphones with a microphone included. The Q9U is fortunately designed to ignore the microphone on a TRRS headset, if present, while outputting the latency-free audio.

 

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 18

I call it bulletproof since it solves the issue discussed in my 2015 article TS/TRS/TRRS/TRRRS: Combating the misconnection epidemic (illustrated above).

The same 3.5 mm jack also works just as well for playback monitoring (or listening to a remote guest or panelist), as long as your app and system are set to send audio playback to the Q9U. Unlike some other devices I have tested recently (which have a much weaker headphone amplifier), using my favorite CB-1 isolating headphones (which are rated at 32 ohms, reviewed here), the output level in my headphones fortunately was great even at about 60% when recording at -12 dB and setting the headphones. Since the headphone amplifier in the Q9U has headroom, even the popular Sony MDR-7506 headphone (which is rated at 63 ohms) should be fine. If you have extremely high-impedance headphones (I don’t), it may be a bit soft.

 

Mounting and shock sensitivity

The Q9U mounts via a ⅝” thread and that’s how I easily mounted it onto my PL-2T flexible arm. The official Q9 manual states:

 

“An internal air-pneumatic shock mount isolates the capsule from mechanical noise…”

 

However, as you’ll hear in my test recordings ahead, this seems to be an exaggeration. As a result, care should be taken to avoid touching the table, desk or boom arm while broadcasting or recording with the Q9U unless a compatible shockmount is added, assuming you can find one. If you do find one, it may make the use of the mute button (covered ahead) more difficult or impossible.

 

Built-in mute button (both USB and XLR modes)

The built-in mute button on the Q9U fortunately works well both with the USB and XLR modes. However, the user must be careful to avoid tapping on the microphone when pressing the button. The transition from unmuted to muted (and back) can be very clean if that is taken into consideration, as you’ll hear in my test recordings.

 

Rear connections and settings

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 19
Diagram courtesy of Samson

5—Low Cut – When engaged, this slide switch will cut low frequencies by 3dB at 200Hz.

 

6—Mid – When this slide switch is engaged, you will hear a boosted midrange presence in your audio signal.

 

7—XLR – Male XLR connector used to send an analog output signal to a mixer or other input device that accepts mic level signal.

 

8—Headphone Output – Zero latency monitoring from 3.5mm (1/8”) headphone output jack (as described in detail earlier).

 

9—USB Connection – C size USB connector (as described in detail earlier).

 

How the Q9U introduces itself to the system (via USB)

Like a few other USB microphones I have tested previously, the Q9U always introduces itself to the system as a single channel (“mono”). I like this, because it saves a step when recording in a multitrack audio recording app (aka DAW) like Hindenburg Journalist Pro, which continues to be my favorite multitrack editing program for conventional computers (macOS and Windows) and I have reviewed or covered it in many past articles. Because the Q9U presents itself this way, we can  save drive space and bandwidth when uploading a file without having to make a special adjustment in the recording app.

 

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 20

Above you’ll see how to do that in Hindenburg Journalist Pro. On the far left of this track, I selected the Samson Q9U. Because it is already a mono/single channel, no other options appear for this source. (With USB mics that present themselves as “stereo”, you’ll have to select either Left or Right to achieve that efficiency.)  In case you are wondering, Hindenburg Journalist Pro automatically treats signals made this way as centered if exported or published in stereo. 

There are no potentiometers on the Q9U, so even in USB mode, all level adjustments are to be made on the connected host device.

 

Why I prefer the A7WS windscreen than the included one with the Q9U

Even though the Samson Q9U comes with a windscreen which is much better than the one that comes with the lower-priced Samson Q2U microphone (which I reviewed in 2019), it’s still not perfect with preventing plosives.

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 21
Above photo of the A7WS windscreen/pop filter/breath filter, courtesy of Shure.

 

That’s why I am using the Shure A7WS windscreen (shown above and in the main image of this article) instead of the Samson Q9U’s included windscreen. The Shure A7WS is not the same as the Shure “presidential” A81WS I used with the headless Q2U and several other microphones. Instead, the A7WS has a much larger diameter and is the larger of the two windscreens that come with US$399 Shure SM7B and is fortunately also sold as an accessory for only about US$20 as opposed to the approximately US$30 for the A81WS. In addition to being much more resistant to plosives than the included windscreen that comes with the Q9U, the A7WS is also much better at reducing excessive breath sounds compared with the included Samson windscreen. If we’re going to use the Q9U at the ideal distance, then using it with the A7WS is the only way I’d want to do it. I know that some people (especially in videos) have the Q9U much further away, but that’s not the ideal position for the best sound. So using the Q9U with the A7WS instead of the included Samson windscreen is the absolute best way to use it, in my opinion. Whether you are using the Q9U for live broadcasting or pre-recording for a later edit, it’s better to make the breathing sound natural directly from the microphone, rather than having to attenuate it later, if you even have time to do that.

 

Test recordings (separate XLR and USB)

All below recordings are uncompressed 48 kHz WAV. Use Ethernet, wifi or unmetered data.

 


Above, XLR via RØDECaster Pro, flat unless otherwise stated in short sections, with normalization from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.

 

Above, XLR via RØDECaster Pro, flat unless otherwise stated in short sections, with mild noise reduction and normalization from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.

 

Above, USB flat, with normalization from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.

 

Above, USB with mild noise reduction and normalization from Hindenburg Journalist Pro.

 

RATINGS

Looks and build quality

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

 

Connectivity via XLR

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

 

Connectivity via USB for standard computers

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

 

Connectivity for for mobile devices (USB mode)

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

 

Zero-latency monitoring (USB mode)

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

 

Sound quality

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 22

(in its price range, using the aforementioned windscreen/pop filter/breath filter)

 

Shock resistance

Review: Samson Q9U studio dynamic hybrid mic with A7WS windscreen 28

 

Conclusions

The Samson Q9U has great looks, sound quality and universal compatibility via XLR and USB-C. In fact, the Q9U surpasses the manufacturers offering, since it even works perfectly with Android and Chromebook. The Q9U is even better when using my recommended windscreen/pop filter/breath filter. While we find a compatible external shock mount, the only precaution is to have special care to avoid tapping the desk, table or boom arm while broadcasting or recording.

 

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Vocas FX6 LCD Support Bracket – Brilliant!

A common complaint with the FX6 is that the pivots on the LCD screen are quite weak. So if you add a heavier sun shade or a magnifier loupe the screen tends to tilt and flop around. Vocas have come up with a really rather brilliant LCD support bracket that works in tandem with the existing LCD mount to turn it into a beautiful fluid damped  system.

The support bracket fits on the supplied 15mm rod normally used for the LCD screen and the the LCD screen assembly slides into the support system. It takes only seconds to fit and remove and no tools are needed so if you do want to take it off at any time you can.

Once fitted you can then add a loupe such as the FX9 loupe or another 3rd party magnifier. The support bracket incorporates a fluid damped pivot that takes the weight of the LCD and stops it sagging or drooping but at the same time allows you to adjust the angle of the screen easily. If you do need to lock it in place there is a locking screw, but normally you don’t need to use this as the fluid damping holds the screen in place very nicely.

You should note that the screen will only tilt up and down when you use the support bracket, so you can no longer fold it flat against the side of the camera, but if you are using a loupe, you can’t do that anyway.

I really like this bracket. I does add a little bit of weight, but if you are using a loupe it really adds a quality feel to the way the LCD screen moves. If you are working handheld without a loupe then it takes seconds to remove it.

For more details take a look at the video.