App of the Week – DSLR Toolkit

Welcome to this week’s “App of the Week” column. You know, the writing quality may not be up to snuff, but at least I came up with a unique and original name, right?

This week’s app is less in the “holy crap this will change your life” category than it is firmly wedged (snicker) in the “handy enough to keep around” category. Whether or not you shoot on a DSLR (the staple of today’s low-budget indie filmmaking world) check out DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit.

DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit`

It’s even got a toolkit right on the icon! Click to view in the App Store.

True to its name, the app doesn’t perform a single function but a myriad of them. It’s got a slate/shot log combo, a viewfinder, a d.o.f. calculator, a daylight times function and a level. All of these concentrated in one place (meaning you don’t need to switch back and forth between apps) make for a handy little app that I’ve almost always got open on set.

The app comes in at $7.99. That’s a good deal cheaper than many of the useful film apps out there, even if it’s not “Angry Birds” cheap.

Angry Birds

Or “Angry Birds cheep”, if you will. HAHAHA! Oh, I kill me.

So let’s break it down bit by bit and check out all these nifty little features.

SLATE

DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit Slate

Not pictured: the snickering faces of your crew when you whip out an iPhone slate.

Toolkit comes with a slate function that is pretty standard for a mobile slate. It’s got all the usual stuff you’d see on a slate, plus some nice extras like a “More” screen where you can list other data like ISO and lens length.

Now, the main problem with the slate is that it’s a mobile slate. I’ve never seen a mobile device perform as a slate in a satisfactory manner, mainly because the “clap” relies on speakers, which are always too quiet. There’s nothing like that nice hard slap of a physical clapper slamming down – and I’m speaking from three years of experience as an editor and a sound mixer. Always try to get a physical slate, not a mobile one, for your productions – your post team will thank you.

HOW I USE IT

There IS still a powerful use for the DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit slate, however. After you clap it (done by tapping the sticks at the top) a shot logging screen comes up:

Toolkit Shot Logging

FUN FACT: I calculated it and approximately 35% of my shot notes have the words “Psychotic Bitch” in them.

Here you can give a 1 to 5-star rating, and include notes on the shot. These are then saved in the:

SHOT LOG

Toolkit Shot Log

It’s the sign of a great actor that they need many takes to get it right. At least that’s why my actors keep telling me.

In this portion of the app, Toolkit stores data on every shot you’ve slated in the Slate screen. This is useful for four reasons:

  1. You can see about how long you’re taking on each shot
  2. It makes it easier to keep track of what scene/shot number you’re on
  3. I need it to keep track of these things because I’m bad at math.

When you’re finished shooting, you can then tap the “Export” button at the bottom and Toolkit will let you email your shot list in .csv format (compatible with Excel). Within Excel you can then format it how you want and print or pdf it for your editor.

HOW YOU CAN USE IT (BONUS):

I’ve had an idea I’ve been trying to realize using the shot log you get from Toolkit. Basically, I have been trying to take the .csv file it gives you and turn it into an automated script (using AutoHotkey for Windows or Automator for Mac) that will go through all of your footage files and label them, possibly even entering your Log Notes in your editing program. If anyone can make this work, let me know and I’ll feature it on the site.

VIEWFINDER

The viewfinder is a handy little doohickey. Want to know what the frame will look like with a given lens length? Whip this puppy out. Extremely useful when you’re setting up and trying to determine not only what lens length you want, but where you want it.

This is even more useful when you’re very limited in the lenses you’ve got – say, for example, if you’re shooting only with a 50mm prime, an 85 mm prime and a 110mm prime. (Of course you’ve got the 18-120 zoom lens that came with your 7D, but the default lenses rarely look very good). So you know what length of lense you want to use, but where exactly do you want to put it? Whip out the viewfinder and set it to 50mm:

Toolkit Viewfinder

Then you can tell your DP, “Okay, give me the 50mm right HERE” (where your phone is). This can eliminate a lot of setup time when you and your DP would normally be fiddle-fucking around with where exactly you want the camera set up.

If you’ve got a second camera and want to use the 85mm to get a closeup at the same time, merely slide your finger along the “wheel” to the right of the viewfinder, and voila:

Toolkit Viewfinder (Tighter)

“Are you slowly creeping up on me? You’re slowly creeping up on me, aren’t you?”

Again you can show your DP exactly where to put the lens, as opposed to pointing to a general area and then fiddle-fucking. Because honestly, on a film set, who has time for fiddle-fucking?

Fiddle-fucker

No, put…just put your hand down. This isn’t a…all right, fine. Well done, Sally.

It’s worth noting that (as you can see in the pictures above) the image quality is sub-par. It’s only meant for you to set framing and compose your shot, not to serve as an accurate representation of how the shot will look.

Other cool features of the viewfinder:

  • You can save snapshots. A possible application of this is to get the actor on their mark, then move around them with the viewfinder and take a snapshot from every angle you want to get, for coordination with the DP as the shoot progresses. (I find it more helpful to pick each angle as you go, but YMMV).
  • You can change the aspect ratio of your shot, helping your composition when shooting in a more “filmic” ratio.
  • You can select what camera you’re shooting on. This actually makes a huge difference, since the same lens will look different on a Canon 7D than it will on a 5D, due to the difference in the sensor size.

One caveat to the viewfinder is that it has a maximum “width” of 20mm. Go to a wider lens than 20mm and the phone starts automatically adding blackness around the edge of the frame (since I believe the iPhone’s camera is natively 20mm wide). This tiny issue aside, the viewfinder is a tremendous help for me on set.

DOF Calculator

The DOF (or “Depth of Field” for those of you who haven’t memorized every film acronym ever) Calculator…well, it calculates your depth of field. I’ve found its calculations to be highly accurate, and I’ll often use it in conjunction with the Viewfinder to establish where exactly I want to put my camera.

Toolkit DOF Calc

Again, you can select what camera you’re shooting on (sensor size makes a difference here, too). You then select lens length, distance to subject and your f-stop and the calculator gives you your total depth of field and your “near” and “far” focal lengths. Cleverly used, it can help you figure out a lot of things. Really want to use that gorgeous L-series 85mm lens but want the actor’s whole head to be in focus? Use it to figure out how far away to set up the camera. Want to know how much of the person’s face will be sharp if you’re six feet away? Plug in the values and find out. You get the idea.

DAYLIGHT TIMES AND LEVEL

Not too much to say about these functions, except that they work. They give you daylight times…

Toolkit Daylight Times

Their obsession with the word “Twilight” is off-putting, but other than that this works great

…and act as a level, respectively.

Toolkit Level

Ha! It’s like me! Unbalanced!

SUMMARY

You can see that DSLR Filmmaker’s Toolkit has a variety of instruments that can be useful on set. It is true that some of these functions are better handled by other apps – “Movie*Slate” provides a better slate, “Sunrise & Set” is better for daylight times, etc. However, no other app combines all of these functions in the same place. And for most applications, Toolkit will give you all that you need. In addition, some of the other “specialty” apps have extremely hefty price tags (Movie*Slate alone is $24.99). Therefore I’d say that DSLR Filmmaker Toolkit is the first, though not the only, app that DSLR shooters should invest in.

TOTAL COST: $7.99

USEFULNESS: 4 OUT OF 5

Thanks for reading this week’s “App of the Week” column. Next week I’ll try not to overwhelm you with my awesomeness so much. As always, if you have an app that just gets your undies in a twist, let me know in the comments and I’ll consider it for a future column.

Bye for now.

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