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Documentary Techniques
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Old February 18th, 2010, 09:26 AM   #1
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Need your input please

We start shooting this fall for about 80 days in the woods/hking trails etc. I need to keep the weight at a minimun as there are only two hikers and their hiking gear is more important than the cameras. Anyy suggestions on HD cams that are rugged enough but light enough for such a mission?

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Old February 19th, 2010, 06:18 PM   #2
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It would help if we knew more about your project. What are you shooting, how must it be delivered, how important is quality?

Two options come to mind. HDSLR (see other threads for the list of issues with this platform) or a small pro-sumer device like the Canon Vixia series. Both should fit well into a pack and don't require huge batteries and charger arrays.

Don't forget audio! The audio on both of my suggestions is not nearly as good as the audio on a big pro camera; therefore, you might want to pack something like a Zoom H4n to capture sound.

80 days is a long time. How will you manage your media; for ex, off loading tapes or cards?
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Old February 22nd, 2010, 12:56 PM   #3
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We will be walking a 935 mile trail from stem to stern. We have a mobile facility that will mirror our from town to town. That is the key to the logistics so offload, editing, etc will be done on the bus.

The final delivery will be episodic televison then to dvd.

We have been towying with different audio solutions for a while. Weight is a big issue so we are trying to get an idea of camera so we can add up the total of audi/video to determine viability.

I saw a Vixia camera on the calssified section and it looked intersting. I will look further into it.
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Old February 27th, 2010, 01:21 AM   #4
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935miles... That sounds like the Mountains to Sea trail.

This past summer, I hiked the 2650 mile Pacific Crest Trail and carried a Canon HF S100. It survived the deserts, rain and some snow at the end. This is probably the heaviest most backpackers are going to want to carry (as with the largest battery, it weighed 21oz) unless they feel dedicated to the project. Unfortunately, each generation seems to go up in size and weight to add more features/larger LCD etc. The prevous year, I carried the older HF100 on several trips and it was smaller and lighter which I missed, but the HF S100 has better quality so I went with it.

Any camcorder of similar same size or smaller will likely work. Make sure it has some sort of optical stablizer for hand shots. Go with flash base units as they use less power then Harddrive/Tape ones, are smaller and lighter, and the lack of moving parts is a definite plus. Learn the limitations of low-light and motion artifacts of the camcorder before you leave so shots can be composed with those in mind.

The biggest canon battery at the time (BP-827) and a 32GB flash card filmed at highest resolution got me a little more then 3hours of video. I used both the photo mode (8megapixel) and video mode on it.

I actually found the 8megapixel photo mode useful to use for shots of scenery. After all, a smooth pan is difficult when done by hand as I wasn't carrying a real tripod, but smooth panning across the larger photos on your computer is easy. This worked well with the regular photos as they are larger then HD(3264x2456 pixels wide verses 1920x1080 for HD video). Though my pre-hike thoughts on making panoramic photos by joining with photoshop and using those for really large pans didn't work out as well as I thought. It took a lot of work to get some of them to join seamlessly enough to not notice the seam in the video and many panoramic joins had to be tossed as not useable. When testing filters and lens hoods for vignetting, don't forget to also check it out in photo mode and not just video (as I found out the hard way after I left).

How you carry the camcorder is an issue. If it is packed deep down in the backpack, it will be seldem used except in camp at night. If access is quick and easy, it will get used alot more often. I've found that lens cases often fit the cylinder shape of camcorders well if you aren't hangng acessories on them (shotgun mics, etc). I used a large Op/Tech Lens pouch (soft sided) hung off the D-Ring on top of my shoulder strap. I sewed an elastic strap to the lower half to hold it tightly to the shoulder strap (only weighed 3.5oz). Other hikers I know who had camcorders used those fanny pack style camera cases with sucess (though they weigh more) and either attached them to their packs' hipbelt or wore it above their hipbelt. The lens case would keep it dry for the most part, but I also packed it in 1/2 gallon ziplock bags when the weather was bad.

At times, I found the wireless remote that came with the camcorder useful. I ended up dumping most accessories except for a circular polarizer as time went on as I just wasn't taking the time to mount and use them often enough to justify the weight. Though a small lav. mic (non wireless) was useful (as the shotgun mic was dumped due to not being able to store it mounted to the camera and thus I rarely took time to mount it).

Things I wish I had done differently: I wish I'd remembered to state in the camcorder where I was in front of every shot. It was a pain to figure it out with a map and my daily journal months latter. Though it was fine with my videos as long as I didn't stack more then 2 filters, I wish I had brought a larger lens hood as the one I brought caused some shadows on the corners of my photos (I learned this 2 weeks after I left and often left it off as a result)
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Old February 27th, 2010, 08:35 AM   #5
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Does the network/channel you are shooting this for have any format or equipment requirements that you need to consider? Some networks won't take a show shot entirely on a 1 chip camera or certain formats.

For heavy outdoor use, I'd also suggest a Hoodman-type sun shield for the lcd screen. It's small and folds down to nothing but really helps in bright sun light.
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Old February 27th, 2010, 06:15 PM   #6
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I will echo Bob's consideration... What are the acquisition standards for the broadcast outlet?
That will determine what cameras can be used.
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