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Time to Rewind to “Back to the Future”

This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 9/22/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

Great Scott! It's October! That means our lives are about to intersect with a monumental moment on one of cinema's trickiest timelines – the day when Marty McFly arrives in the Hill Valley of the future, in Robert Zemeckis's 1989 sequel Back to the Future Part II. Yes folks, 21 October 2015 is "Back to the Future Day".

Across the world, fans of the classic time-travel trilogy are looking forward to a whole slew of events dedicated to celebrating this fantasy watershed moment. Your local theatre may be running a double or triple feature of the films. Some of the big venues are showing Back to the Future with live orchestra playing Alan Silvestri's memorable score. There are panels and charity galas galore. I'll bet there are even a few high schools putting on their very own "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance.

ILM modelshop supervisor Steve Gawley checks the internal lighting systems of the one-fifth scale replica DeLorean constructed for "Back to the Future".

But I'm not here to look forward. I'm here to look back – to 1985, when Back to the Future was first released. In those halcyon days, I was an impoverished art student living in London. Like my fellow Brits, I frequently had to wait for what felt like a lifetime to see films that had been released the States months earlier – films like Back to the Future, which hit North American screens in July but didn't reach good old Blighty until just before Christmas.

The incredible thing is that, despite my film-geek credentials and voracious appetite for movie news, when the film finally landed I knew almost nothing about it. I'd seen a trailer, but it hadn't stuck in my mind. Spielberg's producer credit was a good sign, but who was this Zemeckis fellow? Oh yeah, the Romancing the Stone guy. Well, that was an okay film, I suppose…

Light L16 Combines 16 Camera Sensors

Boutique cameras like the Lytro and DxO One don't always resonate with users, but they demonstrate interesting experiments in photography to push camera technology forward. A new camera startup simply called Light today announced its L16 camera, which also takes a big risk with a new camera design concept. The company is calling it the first "multi-aperture computational camera", which is another way of saying that it combines the data from 10 out of 16 camera sensors (each with their own lenses) to composite a 52MP photo that you can adjust focus on in software. The predetermined placement of the sensors, along with their distribution of sizes and accompanying lenses, allows for the software to combine them to simulate a photo taken with a much bigger single sensor and lens.

It's like the brenizer method automated in a point-and-shoot package. Form-factor is the big advantage here, since you don't need a giant piece of glass to get the kind of image quality promised. I see potential for this type of technology--leveraging increasing powerful mobile processors--in future smartphones. It's how we're going to get DSLR quality on phones without bulking them up. If you're interested, the L16 is available for pre-order today for $1700, and will ship late next year.

How To Get Into Hobby RC: Recording FPV Video

Most First Person View (FPV) aircraft have two cameras. One of those cameras is typically an action camera such as a GoPro or Mobius. Its job is to record the flight in unflinching high definition. The other camera is a small security-type camera which creates the video feed that is downlinked to the pilot's goggles or monitor. Although the latter cameras offer much less in the way of image quality, they work well for downlink because they adapt quickly to changing light conditions and provide very low signal latency. Today, we'll look at solutions to record video from those cameras.

While most FPV models have a dedicated camera for HD recording, there are good reasons to record the lower resolution video from the FPV camera as well.

Why Record

When it comes time to share video of our FPV flights, we typically reach for the GoPro footage. After all, what's the point of schlepping around an extra camera if you're not going to utilize the hi-def footage that it collects? There are times, however, when you may want to record the downlinked video from your FPV camera as well.

Even with the help of a spotter who has eyes on your aircraft, a downed model can be difficult to locate. Being able to play back the final seconds of a flight from the aircraft's perspective can reveal vital clues to help find the missing model. Another purpose for recording your video stream is to troubleshoot or tweak the performance of a model. This is especially true if you use an On-Screen Display (OSD) to provide a data overlay on the video downlink. This allows you to have a dashboard that correlates performance data with each moment of the flight. Since it's recorded, you can analyze the data after the flight - without the real-time overhead of piloting.

Several smaller FPV options, such as this modified Blade 200QX, can't carry two cameras. Recording the FPV stream is the only way to capture in-flight video.

A third rationale for recording your video stream is that it may be your only image source. There are a handful of ultra-small and lightweight FPV platforms that just don't have the capacity to carry a dedicated hi-def camera. The Blade 200QX, and FPV Nano QX are just two examples among many. Whatever these set-ups may lack in video quality, they more than make up for with versatility. It's perhaps the only way to record an FPV flight that takes place indoors!

Michael Abrash and Mark Zuckerberg Talk Virtual Reality

Consider this a palette cleanser from the technical talks at this month's Oculus Connect 2. Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Abrash were guests at Vanity Fair's recent New Establishment Summit to discuss their views on virtual reality, in a conversation moderated by Backchannel's Steven Levy. The 40-minute chat is complemented by this feature on Oculus from the most recent issue of Vanity Fair.

In Brief: Interesting Things Happening This Week in Technology

I just got back from my Seattle and New York trips--from which you'll see more videos and coverage soon (we visited the BrickCon LEGO convention and Valve!). As I'm catching up on this week's news, I wanted to share some of the announcements that stuck out at me. Microsoft chose this week to announce its new Surface Pro and Surface Book devices, and its partners Dell and HP did the same with their new laptops. Dell refreshed its XPS lineup with 12, 13, and 15-inch models, with the new entry-model being a convertible running Intel's Skylake Core-M. HP announced its own tablet/laptop hybrid with the 12-inch Spectre x2, also a Core-M machine. We're going to see a lot of Core-M convertibles this holiday.

Next up, Adobe MAX was also this week, and there are a few cool demos and announcements from that conference. You'll want to check out the demo of "Monument Mode", the Project Faces font creator, and updates to Adobe's increasingly robust mobile apps. Lightroom Mobile is now completely free! Finally, two pricing updates. Sony dropped the price of the PlayStation 4 to $350, and Netflix is raising the price of its streaming service from $9 to $10. Existing subscribers won't see their bill go up for a year, and the Premium 4K plan still costs $12. Phiew--that's a lot of news!

Hands-On: DJI Osmo Handheld 4K Camera

We get our hands on the new DJI Osmo, an interesting handheld stabilized camera that makes use of the gimbal and camera from DJI's Inspire 1 quadcopter. Think of it as a portable steadycam. We show you how the Osmo works, how it pairs with your phone for live previewing, and give you a demo of its capabilities.

Hands-On: Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4

Norm's in New York this week for Microsoft's big Windows devices press event. We run through the announcements, including the new Lumia phones and HoloLens demo, and then go hands-on with the new Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. These new laptops have pretty impressive design, and we can't wait to test them in the office.

360 Camera Rigs at Oculus Connect 2

Filming and editing 360-degree videos requires special hardware rigs and stitching software, and filmmakers are still experimenting with how to make interesting 360 videos for VR viewing. At the recent Oculus Connect 2, we chatted with two companies working with 360 video to see what they've learned about producing video in this format.