Shooting a local PBS documentary, need help please!

Started Jun 15, 2017 | Discussions thread
Robbster Regular Member • Posts: 304
Re: Shooting a local PBS documentary - another vote for G85, audio recos

What a great opportunity and experience!

I shoot a lot of video of research with people in their homes and other natural environments, so might be somewhat analogous to your up coming context. I can purchase anything, so it is not about price for me, rather, what kit has the right balance of quality audio/video, toughness and reliability, light weight enough to travel the globe and simple enough to still be usable when tired and jet lagged. I shoot 100% ambient light, and research events may be 2 hours long or more.

My first m43 video kit was built around the venerable Panasonic GH1, and has been through a dozen or so variations since, including brief forays into various camcorder options and APSC (Nikon, Sony a6300), so there are quite a few years of practical field work behind my current choices.

Current kit is as follows for these requirements.  Just got back from using this in Asia and also shot some research in homes in US this week:

  • Panasonic G85.  Unlimited record times, outstanding video features and quality, requisite external audio input, compact size compared to GH5, etc.
  • Pany-Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4 lens protected with best B+W UV Haze filter and super-multi nano coating.  Great zoom range for interviewing, faster for better results in ambient light, etc.  Likely only lens you would need.  Portrait focal lengths are also great for interview discussions, but zoom is critical to accommodate range of real world locations and constraints. 
  • Shotgun audio - Shure LensHopper VP83
  • Lapel or table top audio - Sony ECMAW4 BT mic with right cables to convert mono receiver output to stereo camera input
  • Sirui P-224S 63" 4-Section Carbon Fiber Monopod & Case - Which has feet as well so you can hold it or use it free standing.
  • Manfrotto 324RC2 light duty grip ball head
  • Odds and ends like extra batteries for the camera and mics, chargers, SDXC cards, etc.
  • Packs down to one mid-size LowePro camera bag and the bag for the Sirui. Fits in my 27" roller suitcase with clothes and such, or is easy to carry-on an airplane as well.

For your situation I might swap the Sure VP83 for the VP83F which records to sd card on the mic while simultaneously passing very clean audio to the camera, and wrap the mic in a good Windjammer for outdoor shots.  Tradeoff on the VP83F is much shorter battery life and a bit more complex to use, but you would then have two high quality audio recordings.

There are tons of nuanced reasons behind these choices, so wont go in to them here, but happy to answer questions.

Few key tips:

  • Good audio is harder to get than good video. Invest here and practice in a variety of conditions before you go. Change batteries ahead of when needed, and learn which settings give best results with you camera/mic combinations.
  • Shoot pretty much everything with the camera on the monopod, it is still super flexible in that you can hold it, walk with it, and let it stand on its own, all in a single take. When walking with it in hand, works like a steadycam. Also keeps the camera away from your face so you can interact with folks you are talking to more naturally.
  • Find the camera settings that give you the best continuous autofocus and auto exposure results in video mode and dedicate these to a custom setting/button so you can be up and running quickly.
  • Practice using ambient light to get a good image, i.e., avoid strong backlights and top down lighting of course, but also moving folks around to take advantage of window and other ambient light that comes in closer to eye level. A little natural side lighting can make for a great shot of a person, with a bit of depth and character from the shadows if not too strong.
  • Don't be afraid of long takes with natural fits and starts in either the conversation or the setting, as professionals are going to edit for you, and you need to focus on getting the raw material for them in ways that your subjects find comfortable.  Its more about a natural discussion that you happen to be recording than an "interview".
  • Keep the camera rolling for a bit before yoy say "let's start" and after you say "OK, we're done", as sometimes the most interesting comments follow after the pressure is off so to speak!
  • Take a few shots of the environment, i.e., house, street, whatever, as these B-roll shots can be used by the editors to set the scene for the viewer.
  • The idea is to keep your kit simple enough and for you to be practiced and confident enough with using it that the hardware fades into the background for both you and the folks you are recording, and you can focus more on the conversation and context.

Net, this is a really cool project and with a little care in kit selection and practice with the hardware before you go, you can both have a lot of fun and get a great result!

All the best!


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