Mid May Update

Golden LaptopMiddle of May already… this month is flying by fast.  And so far things are mixed.  ShutterStock sales are down, A LOT.  RevoStock is normal with only 2 sales, which is still dismal.  No more sales at MediaStock, things seem to have slowed down there.  But Pond5 is off on another run towards Best Month Ever (BME).

My sales reports each month are based on sales from the 1st of the previous month to the last day of the previous month.  Most agencies also do their accounting the same way.  Pond5 is the only one that pays on the 15th and can actually post sales on the 15th that will get paid out the same day.  So “pay periods” range from the 16th of each month to the 15th of the next month.  Using that criteria, I just got my “Biggest Payout Ever (BPE)” from Pond5 yesterday.  And in fact, it’s the third consecutive BPE for Pond5.  And I’m at 41 clips sold for the month, so I could end up with another consecutive BME there.  I don’t know what they are doing different than every other agency, but I hope they keep it up.

RevoStock sales are still pretty dismal, but with 2 sales so far this month I’m on pace to match last month’s sales.  The GREAT news is that Revo has revised their pricing structure to be even more flexible, allowing artists to price HD clips as low as $10 and as high as $65.  The $65 top end is still a bit low, but the $10 low end should encourage more animation sales since that’s the most competitive part of the market.  The new pricing goes into effect on Monday, May 17th.  So I’ll be busy re-pricing a whole bunch of clips to match my prices on Pond5.  We’ll see if that was the reason why sales on Revo are so low.

ClipCanvas also restructured their pricing to be more competitive, but it’s been excruciatingly difficult to update prices on their web site.  The submit process is among the simplest in the industry, but if you want to change anything on a clip already in your portfolio, their process is really difficult to use and does not support any form of batching.  It’s gonna take me forever to fix my prices there.  With the exception of the initial submit process, ClipCanvas has a very unfriendly artist interface.

We’ve had tons of storms here in Kansas the past couple of weeks with more rain and storms projected over the next week or two.  So I can’t do much filming outdoor and both of my indoor sessions got postponed because of the weather.  Gonna try again this week.  I’m also headed to Nebraska this coming weekend and the weather there is supposed to be fantastic, so I’m looking forward to shooting a lot of footage there.

Canon T2i Review

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Canon announced a new Video DSLR (vDSLR) in early February.  And they quickly started shipping it the last week of February.  The Canon EOS Rebel T2i is an 18 megapixel camera with support for recording video at an unbelievable price of $799 (body only).

Until now I have only owned “point and shoot” cameras which have very little in the way of manual control. The T2i is my first DSLR.  So unlike many othe reviews out there by photographers and videographers who have owned DSLRs, my review is based on my inexperience. 🙂

I own a Canon Vixia HF11, so I am not new to the world of video.  I’ve got a healthy portfolio online from footage I’ve shot with my HF11.  But it suffers from two major problems that have driven me to seek the loving embrace of a vDSLR.  The first and most important issue is that like most CMOS camcorders, it performs poorly in low light. I’ve gone out at night and shot footage with it and the dark areas are always EXTREMELY noisy.  Too noisy for even Adobe After Effects to clean it up.  Even shooting outside on a dark cloudy day can cause issues.  The second issue is that everything is always in focus.  If you look at film and television today you’ll find that most footage has only the subject in focus, while the background (and sometimes foreground) elements are blurred.  It’s possible, in very controlled situations, to fake Depth of Field with camcorders, but it’s a major PITA.  Many camcorder owners have purchased special adapters that allow them to use SLR lenses and I had one of those myself for a short period, but there were still lots of issues.  No, for me, the solution was to get a vDSLR camera.

I ended up purchasing the T2i kit for $899. I read a number of reviews stating the kit lens was horrible, but I read almost as many reviews saying it was fine as long as you understood its limitations.  When I thought I was going to get the T1i I had actually bought a really nice Sigma lens.  But while it supports the Auto Focus ability of the T2i, it doesn’t have any Image Stabilization for hand held shooting and the kit lens does.  So I figure it was worth getting.  I also bought a couple of clear UV filters to protect both of my lenses.  DSLRs today don’t need UV filters, but it’s a lot easier to replace an $8 scratched filter than a $300 scratched lens.  I also got a Circular Polarizing filter and an ND filter kit.  Both are a necessity for shooting outdoor.

The Canon manual states that a Class 6 SDHC card is required for video recording and I bought a couple of ProMaster Class 6 cards, but neither of them were fast enough to keep up with video recording when I started testing the camera.  Oddly enough, both of my Class 4 Kingston cards work great and I’ve had no issues with them.  Still, I went ahead and replaced the ProMaster cards with SanDisk Class 6 cards which also seem to be working great.  I opted to go with a couple of 8GB cards instead of one large 16GB or 32GB card because I felt it allowed me more flexibility.  I could empty one card and still be shooting with the other.  Plus it’s one of those “don’t keep your eggs in one basket” kind of deals.

Many reviewers talk about the “cheap build quality” or “plastic feel” of the T2i.  But as someone who has never owned a DSLR before, I have no issues there.  It feels solid to me and with my Sigma lens on it, it’s slightly heavier than my HF11.  I realize that Canon had to sacrifice on materials to keep the price low, so I have no plans to use it in the rain or in wet conditions.  If I ever do venture out in the rain, I’ll be sure to keep it dry.

Of course, it’s a “still camera” and does 18 megapixel photos, but that’s not why I bought it.  I bought it because it does 1080p video at 24 fps, 25 fps, and 30 fps.  It does 720p video at 24 fps, 25 fps, 30 fps, 50 fps, and 60 fps. And if you’ve seen the hundreds of clips posted in the past week on Vimeo, used properly, the video is stunning.  I don’t have any clips of my own posted yet, but I have shot close to a 100 clips with it while learning how to use it and I’m impressed.  Even using the “automatic” modes (which is a no-no), I got some really really nice footage.  Once I started to learn how to use the manual settings (and got an iPhone app to help me figure out which settings to use under different conditions), the footage I shot only got better.

Will it replace my HF11?  No, not entirely.  I expect I will shoot more with it, but the HF11 still has numerous advantages.  Not the least of which is better sound and the ability to shoot more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted footage (12 minutes max at 1080p).  Plus the HF11 is “always ready to shoot” since most of its settings are automatic.  To get really good footage out of the T2i you have to spend a few minutes to modify the manual settings to match your shooting situation.  Sometimes that few minutes is enough to miss what you want to shoot.

I’m still learning how to use this thing and I will be using it extensively during an upcoming trip to Detroit.  Within a few days I expect I’ll finally have good enough footage and stills to post on my own blog.  So make sure you follow me on Twitter (@dnavarrojr) if you want to follow my progress.

If you are a still photographer and you are thinking about getting into Video, you should seriously consider getting a vDSLR.  If, like me, you’re on a budget then the T2i is probably just what the doctor ordered.

RevoStock making a run for the title

It looks like RevoStock really wants to sell more footage, which is great news!

Within a few days of Pond5 adding support for embedded meta-data, RevoStock also added support.  Both sites were working on it at the same time, Pond5 just beat them to the punch…  But it was far from a knock out and it looks like RevoStock is up for a title fight with some recent changes.

RevoStock now accepts clips encoded in H.264, QuickTime Animation and QuickTime PNG codecs.  Which means that you can upload H.264 .MOV clips directly from cameras that support it, or re-encode in H.264 which provides a LOT more data for buyers.  And the Animation/PNG codecs allow you to include embedded alpha information without having to create a separate luma matte for your animation or chroma key clips.

Also announced today were new options in Flex pricing that allow for more competitive pricing.  The upper limit on pricing was raised to $65 in order to attract more higher end artists and the lower limit on pricing was set at $5 (SD clips, HD clips are $10) to allow for more competitive pricing in the huge animation market where prices on other sites are typically much lower than the previous $30 floor.  It’s still not “create your own price”, but it’s still much better and should allow RevoStock to compete better with Pond5 and ClipCanvas (who also recently updated their pricing).  The new pricing takes effect on May 17th.

The only major feature now missing from RevoStock is optional automatic resizing of clips.  If you want to sell different sizes, you still  have to do all the encoding work yourself.

April 2010 Sales Report

(WordPress is having issues with the post title, not sure why… but this is the April 2010 report, not March.)

April is a mixed month with overall sales down about 9%, but a new Best Month Ever (BME) at both Pond5 and ShutterStock.  ShutterStock was the surprise for me with 7 sales (8 actually, but I got a refund).  RevoStock is down,  but from what I hear through other artists, sales are way down there anyway on footage (interestingly, their AE project sales are up).  And I was very surprised to have my first sale on newcomer MediaStock after uploading my first batch of 10 clips.  With 4 sales, they’ve matched RevoStock and they have less than 4,000 total items available for sale.

April 2010
Agency Clips Sold Portfolio Size
Pond5 77 (-3) 962 (+56)
RevoStock 4 (-2) 243 (+21)
ShutterStock 7 (+4) 127 (+15)
ClipCanvas 0 (-1) 145 (+59)
MediaStock 4 (+4) 78 (+78)
Can Stock 0 (-2) 30
iStock 0 (-1) 14 (+3)
Fotolia 0 4

Although I had 3 fewer sales on Pond5 this month, I had higher priced clips sell… so my dollar amount was higher this month.  That makes my third consecutive month of increased sales on Pond5 and my second consecutive BME.  I’m sure that the $25,000 in free credits helped with April sales, and will probably help in May as well.  I missed my 1,000 clips online goal for April… but I should have no problem hitting it in May.

RevStock was disappointing again with low sales.  I only uploaded 21 clips, enough to get 1 entry into their monthly contest, but all of my best selling clips from Pond5 are on Revo and they just aren’t selling.  A lot of Revo heavy sellers have told me their footage sales are way down too.  Interestingly, AE sales, which seem to be their bread and butter, are up on Revo for April.  I just got the announcement from iSyndica this morning that RevoStock now supports importing meta-data from .MOV files, so I expect I’ll be uploading a lot more there in May since it’ll be so much easier to submit.  Perhaps you just need a large portfolio there… who knows.

ShutterStock was a shocker with 7 sales in April.  Along with my still sales, I just barely hit the minimum payout for the second month in a row.  A new first.  And a BME as well.  I did have a refund though, which irks the heck out of me.  I really hate the fact they allow buyers to download footage and then decide they made a mistake and get a refund.  Essentially allowing them to steal footage.

Only 3 days into May and I can also report that Pond5 sales are going strong.  I’m not sure why they outsell everyone else in the industry, but they sure know what they’re doing.

Spring has arrived with lots of storms and a lot of sunny days great for shooting outside.  However, I’m hoping to mostly be shooting inside this month with some models/actors.  People shots are where it’s at and I’m hoping to cash in. 🙂

April 2010 MicroStock News

Golden LaptopApril was a big month in MicroStock with lots going on at many sites… plus the NAB convention in Las Vegas.  Lots of web site updates and a number of problems as well.

Pond5 gave away $25,000 in April… although not to one person, and not in cash.  They gave away $500 a day on their web site and another $2500 a day during the NAB conference.  The prizes were credits that can be used to purchased any media on Pond5.  Pretty clever considering it only costs them half ($12,500) if all of the credits actually get used.  April sales were up for most everyone, and I”m betting the giveaway is a big factor in that.  Several people I know won $50 during the month, sadly I was not among them.  Pond5 also made some changes to the web site during April.  They sped up the back end database a little bit (Pond5 is already the fastest of the MicroStock sites, so I’m not sure what there was that needed tweaking), added some search functionality, and a minor little thing with embedded meta-data.  What?!?  Yup, Pond5 can now import meta-data embedded in your QuickTime .MOV files.  MicroStockers in the photo world have had that for years all the sites importing embedded titles, descriptions and keywords.  Pond5 just missed being the first site to support it with .MOV files (PixelFlow was the first), but they are certainly the biggest site to support it.

RevoStock has also been very busy with site updates in April.  First they dramatically improved their back-end database which has made the site MUCH MUCH faster to access.  They had a few hickups along the way with the site going down several times, but in the end it was well worth it.  I used to hate using the RevoStock site because it was so slow, but now it’s a pleasure.  They also finally got around to supporting H.264/MP4 and PNG encoded files which is a major leap forward.  H.264 is used by most modern cameras today which means in some cases you can just submit footage straight from the camera, although most footage will still need to be “processed” before you submit.  If you are only submitting to a few sites and they all support H.264, I would highly suggest making the switch from PhotoJPEG.  Not only are the files much smaller, they contain a LOT more data in them which should be attractive to buyers.  And finally, they merged the two keyword fields in the submit form, which means you don’t have to enter primary keywords and secondary keywords separately. Boy was that a pain in the ass.  It makes cutting and pasting from iSyndica or other sites much easier… and rumor has it that it’s in preparation for supporting meta-data importing.

ShutterStock started out April with major FTP issues.  Files were not getting imported, or worse, they simply disappeared after uploading.  I lost about 200 credits on iSyndica from files getting lost after upload.  It took them about a week to even acknowledge the problem, and then another week or so to finally fix it.  Suffice it to say that it severely impacted my submitting to the site in April.  However, for me personally, they redeemed themselves with my Best Month Ever (BME) in sales.  I hope the sales trend continues.

iStock changed their FTP procedure, making it 10 times harder to upload files.  Then, during NAB their site started crashing and was mostly down for about a week.  Once they finally got the site back up and running, their FTP servers ran out of space and nobody could upload new files.  Pretty much a big mess for iStock in April.  Hopefully things will be better in May.

ClipCanvas changed their pricing schedule at the end of April.  They reduced all prices by 1 euro (from 50 to 49) because someone read a book on Marketing Psychology, I’m assuming. Most importantly, they added two more lower price levels 29 euros and 9 euros.  Quite honestly, they’d be better off just allowing artists to set their own prices, but at least this is an improvement and should spark more sales.  Too bad their process for updating your existing portfolio is so difficult.  My one sale on ClipCanvas last month had me a little excited, but lackluster performance and the lack of any sales data (popular keywords, clip views, etc..) has dampened that enthusiasm.  I’m still submitting there almost as much as I do to Pond5, but only because the initial submit process is so fast and easy.  If it weren’t for such an easy initial process, I might be thinking about giving up on ClipCanvas.  We’ll see how their new pricing works out and how long it takes me to adjust my prices.

MediaStock is a relatively new site I mentioned in my last blog entry.  It’s based in Canada and supports footage, images, music, AE projects and 3D models.  Most new sites don’t rate excitement, but the folks at MediaStock are taking the “Pond5 approach” and have decided to work closely with submitters to attract lots of uploads.  So far, their strategy is working. The 60% revenue share is definitely attractive and they’ve been very receptive to requests for changes to their site.  Still, they’ve got a ways to go.  Managing your portfolio is still difficult, FTP support is spotty and doesn’t work with iSyndica, and there’s no marketing data like popular keywords, etc… but I’m feeling pretty confident this site will be a keeper.  With less than 5,000 media files online they’re already doing a brisk amount of sales.

iSyndica had a VERY busy month.  They updated their pricing  to make it much more attractive, added model/property release management, and added support for embedding meta-data in .MOV files.  I’m still trying to get a handle on the release management, but honestly, I haven’t done a lot with models so I 0nly have a few releases anyway.  They big thing for me is their support for embedded meta-data.  You can type in your title, description and keywords for each footage clip on the site and when uploaded to sites like Pond5 and PixelFlow, the data will automatically be imported when you submit.  This should speed up your workflow considerably, I know it’s helped mine.  MediaStock is also working on adding meta-data support for .MOV files and they’re working with iSyndica to add direct upload support (thank goodness, because MediaStock’s FTP is sllllooowww).  And rumor has it that RevoStock is also adding support for meta-data.  If/when that happens, I’ll probably quadruple my uploads to Revo.

If you are reading this during the first week of May, iSyndica is having a birthday bash of sorts.  If you enter the coupon code: HAPPYBDAY, you’ll get 30% off your subscription.  In addition, all uploads between May 1st and May 7th cost zero credits (yup, they’re free).