HD / HDV documentary equipment choice help at DVinfo.net

Go Back   DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Documentary Techniques
-- Discuss issues facing documentary production.


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old January 25th, 2009, 03:36 PM   #1
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
HD / HDV documentary equipment choice help

Hi all,

This is my first post in this forum, I'm really excited I have found it. So here are a couple of questions I hope someone will be interested in answering.

I recently moved to London, and I'm thinking of taking advantage of the amazing pound to euro exchange rate to spend about 10,000 euros in a documentary shooting kit. Here are a few necessities :

- I do social documentaries in which I need to be invisible sometimes (small camera) yet credible and impressive at other times (large matte box "pimping").
- I'm tired of the flat video feel and want to move towards a more filmic feel and nicer DOF
- I want to invest in something that will be useful in five years from now, so HD or HDV, possibly with no tape media

Here are my dilemmas:

1. CAMERA: Panasonic HVX200 vs SONY PMW EX1 ? It looks like the EX1 is a bit better, but more importantly I discovered the MxR Expresscard (E-Films), which seems to completely solve the problem of expensive media for this camera (a 35$ adapter allows to put in SDHC cards instead of the 500 euro SxS). How reliable is this MxR ? What are cheaper media options for the HVX200 if I want to shoot HD, not DV ?

2. LETUS EXTREME + LENS. I was really impressed by all the videos posted on this forum of the LETUS mounted on the Panasonic and the Sony (even on a Z1). BUT...If you are shooting a documentary which is mostly hand-held, need to zoom in and out because you don't have the luxury of positioning your subject etc, what is the best option ? Is it worth it at all ? I don't see myself changing lenses in the middle of the action. Do I have to look at a Zoom lens then ? But what is the cost of all that ? I'm really interested in knowing more about this.

2. Bis. Sony PMW EX1 + LETUS vs Sony PMW EX3: Maybe a stupid question, but do the additional 1000 euros of the EX3 make it a contender of the EX1 + LETUS, since EX3 allows for interchangeable lenses ? I know you don't achieve the same DOF, but for documentaries does balance the hassle of the LETUS, while still providing a cinematographic look ?

3. TRIPOD (optional). I know almost nothing about tripods, except some friends cursing the Manfrottos. Any suggestion for a good tripod ? At least what it should have, on top of the standard tripod

Of course, I would need to save some money for microphones and boom, but I'm not very worried about that.

I hope documentary film makers out there who have been asking themselves the same questions will help me out with all these dilemmas...

Thanks a lot in advance !
Best

Francesco.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 26th, 2009, 02:53 PM   #2
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Posts: 621
Hi, Francesco,

Let me take a shot at some of this. I should point out, however, that I do not have specific experience with some of the equipment you mentioned, so take this for what it's worth.

1. CAMERA: Panasonic HVX200 vs SONY PMW EX1?
If you've already shot documentaries, you know the tremendous ratio of footage shot per minute of finished product. If you're shooting 35-60 hours of raw footage for a 2-hour doc, obviously media cost is a HUGE issue. For me, the cost of P2 cards really makes the HVX200 completely impractical for documentary use. On top of that, think very carefully about how much of that raw footage you want to keep, and how long you want to keep it. I love the idea of tapeless, but the nice thing about tape is that it is dirt-cheap, durable and has a proven long shelf-life. I looked long and hard at the EX1 and the Panasonic when I upgraded from my trusty old PD-150, but eventually settled on the JVC HD100, partly because I got a good deal on a used one in good condition, but partly because I could save all my HDV tapes and have an instant, permanent archive. If you do go with one of the flash-memory based options, I'd strongly recommend that you also plan on purchasing an LTO tape backup system to archive everything. Or, if you can afford it, take a look at the Sony disk-based XDCAM systems. These seem to strike a nice balance between random access, cost and media durability.

2. LETUS EXTREME + LENS.
I've never used these units, so can't really say for sure, but I would think this may depend on your shooting style. If you're doing mainly sit-down, "talking head" interviews, under controlled lighting and where you have all the time in the world to set up, a Letus or similar lens adaptor may work well for you. If you're doing "run and gun" - type shooting where mobility is a premium, I can't imagine you'd want the extra weight, set-up time and power requirements.

2. Bis. Sony PMW EX1 + LETUS vs Sony PMW EX3:
Are you going to be doing much handheld shooting? If so, you might want to see if the EX-3 is more comfortable to hold for long periods than the handicam form-factor of the EX-1 (especially if you've got a LETUS attached!). Neither camera looks very good ergonomically to me, but I haven't actually held either one in my hands. As for the lens options, I think the ability to swap out lenses is a big plus for the EX3, but not necessarily for shallow DOF. Instead, this gives you the ability to experiment with extreme telephoto effects by using a lens adaptor and relatively inexpensive Nikon SLR optics. Very, very handy if you're ever going to do any kind of wildlife shooting.

3. TRIPOD
Don't scrimp here! Spend what it takes to get a really lightweight tripod with a good fluid head -- even if it means you have to buy used or use slightly outdated camera technology to stay in budget. The lighter the tripod is, the more likely you are to have it with you while you are shooting in the field. A tripod does you no good if it's sitting in the car because you didn't want to schlep it around. I really, really love my Miller DS10, carbon-fiber tripod, and think it has done more to improve my documentary shooting than any other purchase I've ever made. A good tripod will long outlast, and retain more of its value, than any camera. Look at Miller, Sachtler, O'Connor or Vinten tripods and try some out. You will gulp at the price, but it's the best money you will ever spend.

You mentioned money for a microphone and a boom. Do you work alone, or with a crew? If you have a crew with a well-trained boom operator, then clearly that's the way to go. On the other hand, if you're working alone, I think you'd be better off investing in some wired and wireless lavaliere microphones and a small digital audio recorder.

I'm tempted to say buy the tripod and audio gear FIRST, then pick the recording/archival media format, and then pick the camera LAST based on the other criteria and whatever's left in your budget.
__________________
http://www.prolefeedstudios.com/blog/
Documentary for the masses!
Brian Standing is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 08:31 AM   #3
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
Dear Brian,

Thanks for taking so much time to reply.

1. I perfectly understand the argument about tapes vs memory. I have the feeling however that tape is on its way out, and is primarily stuck to the HDV - not full HD format (am I mistaken ?). So in a sense I don't want to invest in a technology that is probably going to be here for a couple more years but is essentially on its way out. Your advice about backup devices is really good there, I hadn't thought of it, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for that.

2. My question about the LETUS was really about the possibility of using it on the spot. It is obvious that for set interviews it's nice and unproblematic, but my question (I guess I did not explicitely put it that way) was about how practical it is to use this kind of device when you are in a live situation, where there is not a lot of time to set up, you are shooting handheld and in difficult situations. Is it realistic to use it ?

2.bis. Hmmm. I guess my interest was in shallow DOF. I 'm not really into wildlife, so telephoto is not of interest to me. I guess the ability to use interchangeable lenses is therefore not my priority from what I understand. EX1 wins.

3. Tripod: I'll definitely take your advice here. What tripod do you actually use ? Are you satisfied with it, or would you rather have another one ? If yes, which one ? For audio I work with an extra person, and have already an idea about where to go.

I'll think about the reverse strategy you are suggesting...Sounds good to me !

So Brian, thanks a lot indeed ! You have replied to most of my questions. What really remains a mistery to me is : How realistic is it to shoot with the LETUS, without a tripod, in situations in which you have no time to setup and need to move around a lot ?

Best,

Francesco.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 10:09 AM   #4
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Posts: 621
Hey, Francesco

Well, here's what I use:
- Miller DV-10 Solo Carbon-Fiber tripod system with DS10 fluid head (LOVE IT -- my only gripe is that, on mine, the pan lock sometimes slips -- but I think it just needs to be adjusted on my unit);
- Countryman B3 wired lav;
- Sennheiser Evolution 100 wireless lavaliere system;
- Zoom H2 audio recorder (for under $200, an incredibly handy gadget to have around, with really superb audio quality.)

I use a JVC HD100, but in your case, you'll probably want:
- Sony PMW-EX1 (if you're interested in shallow depth of field, the 1/2" chips will help a bit, compared with the Panasonic, plus the lower media cost make this a winner. The EX-3 may be overkill for your purposes and will be harder to use in "stealth" mode, when you want to be inconspicuous.)
- As many gigabytes of media as you can afford. If you don't have one already, you may also want to look at a laptop with a big/external drive to offload from the SxS / SD cards in the field, so you can reuse the cards.
- LTO-2, LTO-3, or LTO-4 tape drive & SCSI card for archiving.

Then rent a Letus and try it out yourself as a handheld rig.

Add the rest of your sound gear (shotgun, boom pole, mixer), and you are ready to go....

Good luck!
__________________
http://www.prolefeedstudios.com/blog/
Documentary for the masses!
Brian Standing is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 10:42 AM   #5
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
Brian, thank you so much ! This is really great information.
Best,
Francesco.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 01:06 PM   #6
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (formerly Winnipeg, Manitoba) Canada
Posts: 4,087
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Standing View Post
I'm tempted to say buy the tripod and audio gear FIRST, then pick the recording/archival media format, and then pick the camera LAST based on the other criteria and whatever's left in your budget.
There is certainly wisdom in this comment, however I PERSONALLY would change the word "buy" in front of "the tripod & audio gear" to SPEC/SELECT and then work through the equation. You definitely want a SYTEM that works together. Just make sure you haven't bought WAY too much or too little a tripod. And yes, you'll be using you're tripod long after you retire this next camera purchase. I USED to say that lights and camera support never go out of style but it's now just camera support...
__________________
Shaun C. Roemich Road Dog Media - Vancouver, BC - Videographer - Webcaster
www.roaddogmedia.ca Blog: http://roaddogmedia.wordpress.com/
Shaun Roemich is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 01:25 PM   #7
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
Thanks for that comment Shaun. Of course, I think it is important to have a balanced set in terms of quality and cost.

TRIPOD: My question for both of you about the tripod would be the following : since I intend to travel pretty much and mainly via plane, how practical is it to carry around an expensive tripod ? First, it's a lot of extra luggage, second, from my experience they break easily when checked in. Doesn't it make more sense to rent the tripod wherever you are going ?
+ Brian you mentioned that it's good to have a light tripod to carry around easily. Aren't heavier tripods better since they are more stable ?

SOUND: Brian, you are suggesting both a wired lav and a wireless lav...Why two ? And why one of each ? + Can you tell me more about the H2 and how you use that ? It's the first time I hear about that....do you use it as a replacement for a boom mike ?

Thanks.
Francesco.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 02:33 PM   #8
Major Player
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Posts: 621
I agree with Shaun's comment about "selecting" rather than "buying." Sometimes (but not always) it makes more sense to rent, depending on the project. And you do have to make sure your camera and your tripod work well together.

I've had pretty good luck so far with checking my tripod when I fly. It usually sits inside its padded soft case and that sits inside a larger lightstand/tripod soft bag. I pack softer scrims and softbox stuff around the tripod to act as padding. Somewhere on this forum (I think!) someone posted a DIY hard tripod case made out of PVC piping that looked pretty indestructible. I think it's worth bringing a tripod with you, because I wouldn't want to run the risk of not finding a suitable one wherever I'm going. Rental tripods get pretty banged up and may not work properly, they may be out of stock when you get there, or you may be going somewhere where there is no decent rental outlet. To say nothing of the extra time it will take when you get on location, to track down the rental supplier, pick up the gear and bring it back. It's well worth the $15 -$40 the airlines charge you for an extra bag to bring your own.


I think tripod stability has as much to do with the stiffness of the material (which is why carbon-fiber is good), the quality of construction and the mass of the camera, as it does with the weight of the tripod itself. I just know that I have owned MUCH heavier aluminum tripods that flexed much more than my Miller. You do have to match the tripod to the weight of the camera. Keep in mind that many camera ops who are using big, beefy tripods are also using full-size, 2/3" broadcast camera rigs. Even the EX-3, the largest of the cameras you're considering, should weigh little enough so you can get by with the lighter, simpler sticks. The point of a tripod is to have it with you ALL THE TIME. If it's too heavy, you'll be too tempted to leave it behind when you have to trudge to the top steps of the local courthouse (or the top of an Incan pyramid, if you prefer).

As for the mikes, I often work alone and don't have access to a good boom operator, so I use lavs. I use the wired lav whenever I'm interviewing a stationary subject because the audio quality is better, the capsule is smaller and easier to hide, you don't have to worry about fresh batteries or radio interference and it's faster and easier to setup. With a moving subject, a wireless is a necessity. Even if you do have a boom op, you may want to rig a lav mike as insurance, to make sure you get the audio you need. You can't often do retakes in docs.

I find myself using the little Zoom audio recorder more and more. I've connected one to the sound recordists' mixer as an auxiliary audio recorder -- just in case I get a dropout (and yes, it can happen with solid-state media, too). I've put two of them on light stands to get 24-bit, 96khz uncompressed, 4-8 channel audio of a live musical performance on the street. I've dropped one in a subject's pocket when I have two wandering subjects, my wireless is already on one subject, and my other audio channel is taken up with the shotgun mike. I've also taken to carrying one in my briefcase to record wild or ambient sound, or radio interviews when I've come across something interesting and I don't have my camera. I've dropped one off as a podium mike while I shoot from the back of an auditorium. I've also used one when I was shooting a walking subject near a nuclear power plant and the radio interference made my wireless rig completely useless. In a pinch, you could mount it on a boom pole, since it has a 1/4" thread in the base. The only downside of it is that it is made out of lightweight plastic and won't take a lot of abuse. But for about $160, who cares?

It's just a great, inexpensive tool that is small enough there's no reason not to have it with you all the time.
__________________
http://www.prolefeedstudios.com/blog/
Documentary for the masses!

Last edited by Brian Standing; January 27th, 2009 at 02:47 PM. Reason: Added some stuff
Brian Standing is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 27th, 2009, 03:55 PM   #9
Inner Circle
 
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia (formerly Winnipeg, Manitoba) Canada
Posts: 4,087
The traveling bit is ALWAYS the double edged sword. My experience with travel for video is almost exclusively documentary work abroad (typically in the poor 3rd world) where we functioned as a fly on the wall and tried not to call attention to ourselves so I've shot a LOT handheld and some with purchased low cost photo tripods and occasionally with rented tripods in country. As I'm sure you can imagine, varying results from all of the above.

Depending on where you are going, you will have mixed results with acquiring a decent set of sticks from a rental house, if one even exists where you are traveling to. If you are traveling "in the open" with gear, bring the heaviest duty, lightest weight (thinking carbon fibre here) that you could actually SEE yourself carrying around all day. Sometimes a Sachtler Video 25 setup is PERFECT, sometimes I'm looking for something lighter than my Manfrotto 501/525MKII setup. I know it's a cop-out but "it depends" REALLY applies here.

Will you have an assist/mule? How much of what you are doing is run-and-gun and how much is seated interviews and vista beauty shots? If you aren't panning and tilting much, a lesser tripod can serve just as well. Pans and tilts require much more from a tripod head. A hard decision, no doubt. I'm using my JVC GY-HD200's on my Manfrottos a lot of the time but most of my work is cinematic, in terms of moves (ie. I tend to lock down my frame a lot and allow movement through it as opposed to panning a lot to make the frame "more interesting"). My next tripod will certainly be a harder hit on my bank book and I'm looking specifically at Sachtler, Miller, Vinton et al with mid spreaders and CF legs.
__________________
Shaun C. Roemich Road Dog Media - Vancouver, BC - Videographer - Webcaster
www.roaddogmedia.ca Blog: http://roaddogmedia.wordpress.com/
Shaun Roemich is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 28th, 2009, 06:13 AM   #10
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
Thank you so much to both. I guess that's enough for me to make an informed choice at this point. I will come back if I have more questions...F.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old February 2nd, 2009, 04:15 PM   #11
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: Washington DC
Posts: 162
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francesco Ragazzi View Post
I have the feeling however that tape is on its way out ...
I had the same concern when I decided a few months ago what camcorder to buy, and my first criteria was a tapeless work flow. Then I realized that it doesn't matter what the recoding medium is as long as the camcorder fits my needs. I ended up with a JVC ProHD camcorder and learned to love tapes because you have an instant archive of your footage and integrating the footage into the non-linear editing system is a breeze.

Don't worry about a 35mm adapter at this point. For most documentaries where you have to be agile and fast, it will be useless. Also, the STORY that you tell is way more important than how the footage looks. Think about your top-3 documentary movies and ask yourself the question if the movie would be any better if the film had a shallower depths of field. I even doubt that anyone in the audience will ever notice what dof a documentary has.

Tripod: You need a solid tripod that is lightweight enough to be carried around (sometimes all day long). These might be two mutually exclusive criteria, so spend some time figuring out what sticks are best for your camcorder.

Get a decent shotgun mic and a quality wireless lav system that will allow you to work alone.
Stefan Immler is offline   Reply With Quote
Old February 3rd, 2009, 01:22 AM   #12
Regular Crew
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Glasgow. Scotland
Posts: 79
Im probably a good few rungs down the ladder than yourself but I use the following for documentary style filming.

Canon HV20
Zoom H2 recorder
Velbon D7000 tripod

Ive got a 35mm DOF adapter but its fairly crap, ok its totally crap.

I use normal work lights and spots to supply lighting (and to key) and to get more DOF look place the camera further back and zoom in.

Ive also pimped my 20 with a hood, and other bits to make it more pro looking (and also for functionality).


(On a Steadicam JR there)
Rikki Bruce is offline   Reply With Quote
Old February 15th, 2009, 03:10 PM   #13
New Boot
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: London, UK
Posts: 16
Hi Rikki
Nice setup. I would be really interested in seeing some of the footage you do with your HV20. Is there a place I can see it ?
Francesco.
Francesco Ragazzi is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 10th, 2009, 01:42 PM   #14
New Boot
 
Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: London UK
Posts: 12
Francesco,

Hi. Welcome to London.

I shoot on an EX1 with Letus and Canon FD. I have a super light, yet super fantastic Sachtler / Miller combo tripod. But you'd be surprised how all the extra bits of kit soon add up.

If you want you could come over and give it a test to see if it suits your needs or maybe come and have a look when I'm next shooting in town.

Ash.
Ashley Briggs is offline   Reply With Quote
Old March 12th, 2009, 03:02 PM   #15
Major Player
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Toronto ON Canada
Posts: 731
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francesco Ragazzi View Post
My question about the LETUS was really about the possibility of using it on the spot. [..] how practical it is to use this kind of device when you are in a live situation, where there is not a lot of time to set up, you are shooting handheld and in difficult situations. Is it realistic to use it ?
Look at it this way: The shallower DoF you gain comes with a greater need for precision in critical focus. If you're not dead on, how useful is that blurry footage going to be? Think about that and the reality of run-and-gun shooting and ask yourself if the ability to have an extra shallow DoF is worth the risk of totally f'ing your shots whilst on the go?

I would never use it in the field for that kind of shoot. I would use it in the studio or on a location that is very controlled -- locked down on a tripod, not on the move. heck, even then I likely wouldn't use it for a doc. background adds context, why would you want to blur it out with such uber-shallow DoF?
__________________
Mike Barber
"I'm laughing to stop myself from screaming."
Mike Barber is offline   Reply
Reply

DV Info Net refers all where-to-buy and where-to-rent questions exclusively to these trusted full line dealers and rental houses...

Professional Video
(800) 833-4801
Portland, OR

B&H Photo Video
(866) 521-7381
New York, NY

Z.G.C.
(973) 335-4460
Mountain Lakes, NJ

Abel Cine Tech
(888) 700-4416
N.Y. NY & L.A. CA

Precision Camera
(800) 677-1023
Austin, TX

DV Info Net also encourages you to support local businesses and buy from an authorized dealer in your neighborhood.
  You are here: DV Info Net > Special Interest Areas > Documentary Techniques

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

 



Google
 

All times are GMT -6. The time now is 12:46 AM.


DV Info Net -- Real Names, Real People, Real Info!
1998-2017 The Digital Video Information Network