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Old February 6th, 2014, 12:35 AM   #1
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Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

I am doing a project on wildlife, including rehabilitation centres, behind the scene footage of people working in the field etc. It is the first time that I am doing something like this.
What equipment do I need to be able to capture the reality or behind the scenes footage and the wildlife interaction?
At the moment I have a Canon XF300, Canon 5d Mark 3 and Mark 2 with a selection of lenses. Do I need a B-camera and if so, which would you recommend? I will try and sell this to a broadcaster, so in the end I would need an approved camera, but that I will only buy once the project is accepted, so this is just for the teaser or proposal.
What sound recording equipment would I need? And any gliders or stabilising gadgets?
Thanks.
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Old February 15th, 2014, 11:41 AM   #2
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

That’s a lot of questions!

Firstly if I was shooting a doc for boardcast I would find out who my likely clients would be and ask them what cams they accept footage from. Each will have different guidelines. However if the story is compelling and is likely to attract a wide audience then some broadcasters will throw their guidelines out the window ;) Your XF300 seems an ideal camera in my opinion for documentary work.

Having footage from multicams when editing is easier to work with in post than just one cam. That said depending on your shoot you may only be able to shoot one due to different constraints on location, or due to the subject, weather and so forth.

The thing I think is most important when shooting a doc is your audio. I’d get that sorted first. Deciding on equipment really depends if you’re flying solo or at least have a sound engineer. If the latter he or she should have the relevant kit.

Radio mics are a must for doc work. If you’re doing VoxPox then an interview mic would be need.

Personally I prefer a shotgun mounted on a boom with a operator monitoring whilst I’m shooting. This is a really BIG plus. A mixer would also have a valuable place in my audio bag.

Sliders, cranes, steadicams and all that is nice but on busy locations if flying solo is way too much hassle in my opinion. It all comes down to what doc your shooting I suppose and the crew you’re with.

If you're interested I could list a few books I've found invaluable on Documentary filmmaking :)

In my opinion the most important thing is the "story" not the gear, If you're got a good story with mediocre footage and good audio then you've got a good documentary. A poor story with excellent visuals and audio will be just that a poor documentary.

Its when in post that you tell the story :) Best of luck!
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Old February 15th, 2014, 12:38 PM   #3
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

My first reaction to this was "if you don't know, maybe you shouldn't do it". But we all get started somewhere.

I have done several of these but not for broadcast so for what it's worth:
a) The smartest thing I ever did was invest in crew members. It doesn't take long before they know what to do the moment we pile out of the vehicle. In this case, my co-producer ran the reflector and helped with the interview.
b) I use a wireless link from the soundman's mixer into my camera.
c) I also invested in the Edlekrone handstrap for my b-cam operator with a DSLR to improve stability of that camera as it's always handheld. YMMV
d) I love the K-Tek KE79CCR Avalon as it fits in luggage, internal cable and side connection. Ditto the Rycote S-Series Blimp as it comes apart in a flash and travels well.
e) A wireless lav goes on the fixer or subject matter expert and another on the translator (into a second channel in the field mixer with Tascam dr-40 recorder).
f) Camera shotgun for backup and anything too fast or small for boom.
g) Attached photo is just up the road from you in Zambia. haha.
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Old February 15th, 2014, 02:04 PM   #4
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

If you haven't already sold this piece, don't invest in any more equipment than you already have! And try not to work yourself into a corner for any broadcaster or venue that hasn't actually committed to purchase.

You've got a fine kit as it is.

I agree about hiring a soundperson first, that is a very, very good idea. A good PA wouldn't hurt either to carry stuff.

I would really encourage you to try and get commitment on this piece from someone, along with an advance, before you are all the way done. If nobody bites, you can go ahead anyway, but you should try. That way you can be in communication with your "audience" along the way and don't have to guess about what broadcasters might want. You can spend a few days shooting a good trailer and show that around.

Good luck!
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Old February 16th, 2014, 05:55 AM   #5
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

You donít mention having any crew so Iím assuming that you are flying solo in which case I recommend that you have the following as a minimum in your bag. Most likely you already have it. If so youíre ready to go.

Stick with the Canon XF300 its perfect for your needs.

Supports

A Tripod and Fluid Head is a must for interviews.

Apart from that I wouldn't complicate my solo shoot with anything else unless you consider something is needed from a creative point that actually tells your story. If it doesn't help tell your story; donít do it.

Audio

This is really important! Fail here and your doc will suck. If you can as I mentioned earlier get a sound guy or gal. Make sure they share your passion for telling the story. If you are shooting solo and having to take care of the audio then keep it simple.

Have a shotgun mic mounted on board the camera for run gun stuff.

At a minimum have one Radio Mic (Wireless Lav). This is great for interviews.

If you have a presenter or doing VoxPox then an Interview Mic will be required. A wireless one would be best.

Apart from that, just have plenty of batteries and memory cards.

Thatís it. That is all you basically need to make a documentary. If youíre creative and innovative you can work around most things such as lighting an interview. Become a guerrilla filmmaker :)

Anything else is a luxury. Best of luck!
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Old February 16th, 2014, 01:07 PM   #6
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Having done many interviews in the field using my Canon XF300. It is a great camcorder for doing this type of work. I highly recommend that you purchase a really good set of headphones so that you can monitor your sound in the field. Remember, video is 80% audio. One other thing, if you do get a set of wireless Lav's, order a extra pack of foam windbreakers and a couple of extra lapel mic holders as these tend to get lost. Bob

Last edited by Bob Safay; February 16th, 2014 at 01:50 PM.
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Old February 17th, 2014, 08:27 AM   #7
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Good point Bob. I lose quite a few of those pesky little windbreakers and they not all that cheap but absolutely essential.
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Old February 17th, 2014, 01:14 PM   #8
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Thanks for all the replies. I really appreciate it.
I obviously have loads to learn. I dont have any mics so i need to get something. I will get the blimp because i will have an assistant. What mic would you then recommend to use in the blimp? And a shotgun mic for on the camera? I do have a shotgun rode made for the slr, but it has a mini plug instead of an xlr. Is it worthwhile getting an adaptor and use this one or get another mic?
Do i need a mixer if i dont have a soundman with equipment and if so which one? Do i need an external recorder like the DR-40 or is there a way to wirelessly record from the boom mic directly onto my camera?
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Old February 18th, 2014, 07:11 AM   #9
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Personally, I suggest that you hire a sound guy that has his own equipment. Heíll have backups and also be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of each piece of kit ensuring quality audio of your documentary. This will give you the peace of mind to get on with the filming and interviewing.

If you do go down the route of renting or purchasing your own audio equipment then so be it.

A blimp is an excellent piece of kit but is quite expensive. Most shotgun microphones will work.
A Sennheiser ME 67 or 416 are excellent on a boom. The latter is my favourite. Asking this question in the All Things Audio sub-form will yield informed answers and help you select the right shotgun for you.

As for a shotgun to mount on your XF300 I suggest asking this question in the Canon XF Series HD Camcorders sub-forum as you will get replies from people who shoot with that camera. They will be better placed to tell you what they have found works well and what hasnít.

Those XLR connectors to 3.5mm mini jacks are very unreliable in my opinion. The audio drops out way too much. Iíd avoid them like the plague if I was you. Go XLR to XLR is a good solid connection.

Now a mixer is very important if you have a sound guy. Without one how can he monitor and adjust the audio as youíre shooting? A mixer is a way for him to adjust things on the fly without having to go into the camera menus. Mixers arenít cheap though.

The easiest way to setup is to have the boom mic go into the mixer via a XLR cable. Then a XLR cable to the camera. Make sure the sound guy is monitoring the audio in the camera not the mixer. To do this run a line from the camera back to the mixer. If he monitors the audio in the mixer and there is interference in the cable from the mixer to the camera, he wonít know it and thinks everything is sounding great. You wonít find out until you review the footage latter or in post.

If you wired up then I suggest investing in a breakaway cable so that you or the sound guy can disconnect quickly. i.e you need to chase the action and donít want to be tethered to the sound guy.

Now a wired setup is solid and the best way to capture audio. But it isnít very convenient in the field; especially for documentary filmmakers. So wireless is a good option. It however is not a cheap option.

Also it has other issues such as interference. To find out if that is the case youíd need to scout the location in advance if that is at all possible. Go wireless if you can afford it but make sure it is UHF not VHF. Cheap wireless gear is next to useless. Useable wireless gear is expensive. Do your research before buying.

I hope this helps you a bit :)
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Old February 18th, 2014, 07:16 AM   #10
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Oh and to answer your other question. A DR-40 is an excellent field recorder. Itís difficult to say if it is essential for your production but I wouldn't really want to be without a way to back up my audio on unrepeatable interviews. Having the mixer record to both the camera and field recorder is never a bad option :) I use Zoom but Tascam and Sony offer great options too!
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Old February 18th, 2014, 08:02 AM   #11
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Quote:
Originally Posted by Heinrich van den Berg View Post
Do i need an external recorder like the DR-40 or is there a way to wirelessly record from the boom mic directly onto my camera?
A Plug-on transmitter on the mic and a receiver on the camera would be what your after if you want to record wirelessly from the mic straight into the camera.
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Old February 18th, 2014, 10:12 AM   #12
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Thanks Paul. So there is no other way to set the levels than with a mixer? The external recorders cannot do that?

Is it worthwhile recording everything onto an external recorder and then later with post match it to the camera or is that too much trouble?
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Old February 18th, 2014, 10:53 AM   #13
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Field recorders allow you to monitor and set levels. Some are easier than others. I like mine to have physical buttons on the outside to change instantly rather than having to dig in the menu to make any changes. The same reason I prefer a mixer rather than digging in the camera menu. If shooting solo then a mixer isn't too high on my list but if you have a sound guy it is a must in my opinion.

Sure you can record all your sound to a field mixer. Youíd need a clapper to give you a reference point in post.

I think getting a book on filmmaking would be a valuable asset for you as it would answer a lot of these questions and take you through the basics step by step.
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Old February 18th, 2014, 10:58 AM   #14
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

Thanks Paul. Can you recommend any books?
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Old February 18th, 2014, 11:04 AM   #15
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Re: Equipment for wildlife documentary/reality footage

I don't personally but I'm sure Amazon would have plenty of choices for starting out on filmmaking. I can recommend heavier reading books on documentary, audio, etc ... but you need to get the basic sorted first.

Let us know who you get on and best of luck with the project :)
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