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Documentary Techniques
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Old September 29th, 2008, 09:39 AM   #1
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Any videojournalists among us?

I was just curious as to what VJs or one-man-band documentarians are packing in terms of sound gear. Do you have a mixer and a stand-alone recorder or do you send everything to the camera?

I asked this up in the Audio forum last year and was told to hire a sound person, which is not feasible (hence the "one-man-band" component of the question) for what I do. So I thought I'd ask here, where the answers will be less specialized to sound gathering.

My situation: I make short videos for educational purposes. Some are documentary in nature (portable, field work) and others are scripted. Not a paying gig. So I'm torn between how much to invest in audio gear beyond the mixer I have.

Obviously dragging a mixer around is not very practical in the field when also working the camera so I was wondering what others do.

Thanks
Bob
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Old September 29th, 2008, 09:49 AM   #2
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In terms of being a 'one man band' - I've got my eye on the viewfinder or the monitor, and thinking up the next question while listening to the answer I'm shooting. I'm listening to the headphones, and watching the levels in the viewfinder. (XL2)

I don't have an extra set of eyes/hands to lay on a mixer. So I'm feeding my sound into the camera, doing a sound/level check and monitoring as I go. Having said that, I DO own a mixer with battery power for the few times I'm mixing more than one source.

My audio package consists of;

1x Audio Technica 897 Shotgun Mic
1x Sennheiser Wireless G2 Lavalier Mic and Xtr.(With the endplug for the hand-helds or boom)
1x AT atr30 Cardioid Mic
1x Shure sm58 Omni Hand Mic
2x ECM 50 Lavalier Mics (not wireless)
1x Azden shock mount for boom.
6x 25’xlr mic cables.
Behringer MXB 1002 Stereo Field mixer

An eight foot boom (I forget what brand, some no-name) And I have C-stands I sometimes use to hold the boom.

(Oh yeah, and don't forget the 'patch box' of assorted cables, connectors, converters, etc.)
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Old September 29th, 2008, 10:22 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Alvarez View Post
In terms of being a 'one man band' - I've got my eye on the viewfinder or the monitor, and thinking up the next question while listening to the answer I'm shooting. I'm listening to the headphones, and watching the levels in the viewfinder. (XL2)

I don't have an extra set of eyes/hands to lay on a mixer. So I'm feeding my sound into the camera, doing a sound/level check and monitoring as I go. Having said that, I DO own a mixer with battery power for the few times I'm mixing more than one source.

My audio package consists of;

1x Audio Technica 897 Shotgun Mic
1x Sennheiser Wireless G2 Lavalier Mic and Xtr.(With the endplug for the hand-helds or boom)
1x AT atr30 Cardioid Mic
1x Shure sm58 Omni Hand Mic
2x ECM 50 Lavalier Mics (not wireless)
1x Azden shock mount for boom.
6x 25xlr mic cables.
Behringer MXB 1002 Stereo Field mixer

An eight foot boom (I forget what brand, some no-name) And I have C-stands I sometimes use to hold the boom.

(Oh yeah, and don't forget the 'patch box' of assorted cables, connectors, converters, etc.)
Do you find that you get most of what you need using the lavs and a camera-mounted mic as backup/ nat sound?
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Old September 29th, 2008, 11:00 AM   #4
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Hi Bob,

I'm in a similar position to yourself, whereby I shoot alone and can't either afford or practically employ a soundman. I try to pay as much attention as I can to the audio.
I often do use a mixer as it certainly gives better audio than feeding directly into the camera. The limiters and preamps are better and I can record louder audio with less headroom, without the risk of clipping.

My Audio gear consists of:
1x Audio Technica AT897 onboard the Sony Z1 camera, feeding channel 1.
1x Rode NTG-2 on boompole
2x Sennhieser G2 wireles lav mics
1x Sound Devices Mixpre
1x Boom buddy + various stands.
1x Sennhieser handheld mic for stand up interviews.
Various cables etc.

It is rare for me to shoot more than two people at once, either in interview situation or action shots. I don't like group interviews in any case, as you always get people butting in or talking over someone, which makes editing a pain.
For sit down interviews with one or two subjects I feed the wireless lavs into the mixer then mix to channel 2 on the camera.
On occasions when I need two wireless lavs on my subjects in less static or action situations I'll feed them into the mixer, which I sling over my shoulder and hook up to Ch2, while the on board goes into Ch1. I monitor with headphones and as long as I've set the tone to about -10 or -12db on the camera things have to get really loud before there's an issue.

If I have just one subject I usually forget the mixer and just use a wireless lav fed directly to camera ch2 with the on board into ch1.

On very rare occasions if its possible, I'll coach someone to hold the boom and listen to the audio with head phones. I monitor on the camera too. I do sometimes have the luxury of my 17 year-old son coming a long, he is pretty good as a soundman and of course is free..

It is all quiet awkward at times juggling all this. But the only real alternative is to ignore the audio and just use the onboard, which of course is not an option if you want acceptable audio.

cheers
Gareth
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Old September 29th, 2008, 11:56 AM   #5
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I'd say probably 70 - 80 percent of the time, its a single talking head, and I use a lav and the shotgun for back up/ambient. But the shotgun is almost NEVER mounted on the camera. I get the shotgun as close as I can to the subject, just out of frame. Typically the camera is six to ten feet away. I like the shotgun to be in the two to three foot range. Hence, the C-Stand or desk stand for holding it.

Quite often, in an 'office' sort of setting - a nice desktop stand with shockmount will hold the shotgun on a desktop just out of frame - easy setup.

I feed the two mics to seperate channels, and mix/match in edit.

For run-n-gun the shotgun will be on the camera, or if I have the luxury of a soundman, he'll be booming. Or for man in the street - camera mounted shotgun, with the interviewer holding a handheld with the wireless txr plug in the base.
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Old September 29th, 2008, 12:03 PM   #6
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In my case just the NTG2 and a wireless G2. And I will buy another G2 set, they work very well.
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Old September 29th, 2008, 12:57 PM   #7
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Normally I go straight to the camera but I'm borrowing my friend's Sound Devices recorder to see how easy it is to use with the camera.

Just thought I'd add, basic mic mounts like these can also be very useful - small, light, unobtrusive, & flexible:
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Old September 30th, 2008, 09:30 AM   #8
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Another option that I use when I am doing the one-man-band thing is if you only have one source (like a lav for example) you can use a pre-amp like the SD MP-1 to boost the mic signal to a line level. I do this when I am runing and gunning and I velcro the MP-1 to the side of my AB bat.

I use channel two for the on board mic to record ambient sound. If you don't need ambient sound you could run a y-cable off the MP-1 into both channels. Again, this is for running and gunning when you are all alone, which I find myself a lot these days. :)
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Old September 5th, 2009, 06:29 PM   #9
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News....

All of the broadcast news shooters I've worked with have a fairly similar method for dealing with sound. A hard wired camera mounted microphone thats always on and feeding one audio channel on the camera, then a wireless receiver feeding the other channel. Usually there are two mics that can work with the wireless- a lapel mic, and a handheld mic. Lapel mics are great for sit down interviews, and a handheld mic can be switched on in a hurry and moved close to where the sound is at.

Most of the time the lapel and handheld wireless mics operate on the same frequency so they can use a single receiver. This means both can not be switched on at the same time or you get interference.

I don't know of any broadcast news shooters who really deviate too much from this technique, except national news magazine shows that will often employ a sound guy.
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Old September 13th, 2009, 09:28 PM   #10
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Dan Chung is a busy, but regular forumite here, he works for the Guardian.co.uk. You can search his posts for some great technical insights.

Go and watch some of his vids on the guardian site though! Great stuff, really well done.
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Old September 14th, 2009, 04:32 AM   #11
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I'm a one man band doing freelance camera work for three news stations.

I need to travel light, but provide high quality, so I pack two mics in the audio bag.
The main one is a Sony radio mic, and the backup is a rode NTG-2 shotty. The on board mic is also a Sony shotty. The camera is also fitted with a radio receiver.

On the weekend, I did two outdoor ints and fitted the talent on both occasions with the radio mic. Being close to the mouth, and somewhat directional, the sound was magnificent.

Today I shot an indoor int, with dead still air and almost studio controlled situation, so it was the Rode shotty on a mic stand.

For windy conditions, ints are done with the rode shotty inside the Rode Blimp, with dead wombat attached. Sometimes with a boompole, sometimes the talent hand holds it out of shot. Depending on distance, the mic is sometimes fitted with the radio transmitter.

When it comes to footy, and one of our footy codes has the coaches go onto the field to 'spray' his troops, and these are recorded just with the onboard mic, fitted with dead rat.

Monitoring audio is done with a set of headphones on. This is no problem as the tripod is locked down and I'm standing with my eye near, but not up to the viewfinder. Also, the camera (A Sony DSR-570 broadcast camera with radio receiver) has a VU meter in the viewfinder display, so that helps.

As is standard practice down here, Channel 1 is used for the radio mic, and Ch2 for the onboard mic, enabling the camera to be, in effect, a two channel audio recorder.

Mixdowns are done in post.

Of all the TV networks here, sound operators are almost extinct for news gathering. Only the ABC has a three man crew - camera operator, Soundo and tripod carrier, er, I mean Jurno..

Everyone else has a camera operator and Journo.

Now... for tricky setups, I have been known to take an audio feed from the sound mixers desk (concerts etc) and if the distance is too far or unsuitable for a coax cable, then I use a radio link back to the camera.

A recent concert I filmed privately, people commented that I hoped I would make sure the sound synched to the movement. Previous camera operators would simply get a copy of the audio CD and stick it with the vision, and encounter serious synch drift. Recording it all to tape at the one time avoids this.

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Old September 14th, 2009, 09:07 AM   #12
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Shotgun + wireless

I worked for a newspaper shooting video for a while and we did exactly as Adam said with a shotgun on one channel and a wireless (either handheld or lav) on the other. In addition to Nat sound, that shotgun also acts a back-up to the wireless, so at least you have something if the wireless fails.
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Old October 1st, 2009, 02:02 PM   #13
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I travel with just an FX-1. I use no sticks and cary no lighting with me. I keep a wireless lav in my pocket but it usually stays there. I do most of the work in post to make it look and sound perfect. I have no worries with the FX-1 mic. I leave it auto and I'd venture to say more than 85 percent of my content is shot using just the camera mic. I mounted a small LED light on the camera but again, I only use it when I have to.
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Old October 17th, 2009, 04:03 PM   #14
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I recently won best sound in the Miami 48 Hour film festival, which surprised me because I didn't think about the sound much - I just did what I've learned covering news over the past five years.

I have a DSR500 broadcast camera that I use for personal work and use a Canon XHA1 HDV camera for daily news work. The sound difference between the two, using the same kind of mics, is astounding. The big camera has much more headroom and much better limiters. If I care about the sound, I use the big camera.

There are a lot of used standard def broadcast cameras out there for not much money, but be careful... a repair can cost more than a prosumer camera, as I recently found out to my chagrin.

But I've learned to get decent sound from the HDV camera as well.

With my work gear, I use a shotgun on camera and a wireless mic for most of my work. I have a Sennheiser ME66 shotgun, which emphasizes the mid/high range so you can pick voices out of the background sound. Work has Sennheiser 100w g2 wireless and they're pretty good for the money. A big improvement for the G2 is to use a Tram mic. I also have the usual EV RE50 stick mic on a plug-in transmitter for man-on-the-street and news situations. That mic gives really good sound in challenging situations but is hard to keep out of the shot.

I'm going to assume you have good headphones, good monitor speakers on your edit station, a basic shotgun (ntg2, at897, me66) with a high-end wind muff and a $500-or-more wireless. That's pretty much the minimum level of gear to do good sound whether one man band or not.

After you have those basics, I'd say the best way to spend your money is:

1) learn how your mics work in what situations - and the only way to really learn is through experience. It really is a craft. Learn how to use a stand to hold your shotgun in static situations - there is a surprisingly steep learning curve to figure out how to use a shotgun. Cost: your time.
2) learn how to use Soundtrack Pro or your choice of sound software to normalize and run through an audio compressor, then use eq or even the STP auto filter to bring back decent timbre to your sound. Run one mic hotter than the other and learn how to adjust for loud and soft passages in the edit. Cost: your time.
2) add an interview mic like the RE50. Really useful both on a xlr cable or a wireless plug-in. Use your mics wired whenever possible. Cost: $150.
3) upgrade your wireless lav microphone to a Tram or similar, which is a pretty good all-around mic and sounds way better than the stock Sennheiser. If you mostly need to hide your mic under clothing, a Countryman is good too, but isn't as all-purpose. Cost: $250 - $350, depending on what you're plugging into.
4) get wired lav mics for interviews - like the Sony ecm 44 or ecm 77. Cost: $225- $425. A lot of people would say this belongs in the essential kit. If you're in an area with a lot of RF noise that will mess with your wireless mics, then the wired mics are necessary. If you're working in an area that you get a clean wireless signal, then maybe not.
5) After you've reached #4, then it starts getting expensive. A better shotgun is good, as is high-end wireless transmitters like Lectrosonics or AT pro models. The Lectro or AT transmitters give better sound than the Sennheiser wireless, but you've gotta learn how to use them before you get your $2500 worth. If you cover meetings, a boundary mic to put on a table is useful.
Once you've spent all that money, then a mixer and a separate recorder become the next step. I wasted a lot of money on mixers and they don't do a damn thing for your sound quality unless you're at the Wendt / Sound Devices price level and you have someone who knows what they're doing running it. Don't waste money on Rolls/Sign/Shure mixers unless you NEED to mix multiple sources down to two channels. I've used a number of digital recorders in the under-$1k price bracket and they're not a huge improvement over in-camera sound, although they're useful to get continuous sound coverage or additonal channels. In any case, it's hard to use mixers and recorders when you're by yourself, except for interviews.

My opinions.
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Old October 22nd, 2009, 05:39 PM   #15
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Since I was the OP and I see this thread has been revived, I'll share my progress over the last year.

As I recall, I'd just decided on purchasing a mixer to use with my Hv20. I ended up with an SD-302 which is a brilliant mixer for the money. I eventually sold the mini camera and upgraded to an EX-1. I use a Senn wireless kit with Countryman lav for when a lav is needed. For on-camera shotgun, I went with an AT 875 R which delivers very nice sound for my budget. I have the shotgun wired into channel 1 and the lav into 2. On a few occasions, I've mounted the shotgun onto a boom stand and it does a respectable job in lieu of a proper hypercardioid pattern for indoor use.

The only time I bust out the mixer is when I'm indoors and can pretty much lock everything down and concentrate on the mixer (oh and the camera!); for example, during an interview/talking head shot. Otherwise, it's too much to operate the camera and the mixer.

There you have it.
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