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Old May 10th, 2010, 07:12 PM   #1
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Need help choosing equipment...

My company needs to produce some educational videos. We got a quote from a guy who does video, which is about $20,000 for 6 days of shooting, and no editing (in other words, handing over camera tapes at the end). He wants half the money a couple of months in advance, sent to an out-of-state address, which makes me really nervous. In addition, I'd need to find 3 other people, in 3 other locations, where I don't live and don't know anyone (and this would be in addition to the price quoted above).

Anyway, since we often have bad experiences with vendors (not showing up, trying to scam us, doing shoddy work, showing up with a bunch of uninsured illegal Mexican workers, etc.) I've decided to buy the equipment and do the shooting myself. This has been true even when we've gone with the most expensive vendor of several, and with a good reputation. Oh, they always have some excuse, car accident, death in the family, but they get all huffy when we ask them to prove it.

So anyway: The budget for the video part of this project is around $20-25K. If we do similar projects in the future it would be nice to still have the equipment.

The project will be taping a law school professor giving a lecture. This will probably be done in a rented meeting room in a hotel. So in other words, sort of a talking-head type thing. It's not repeatable, since the professors are hard to get and quite expensive.

I'd like to use fluorescent soft-boxes for the light, since the professors don't have experience with making video, and I don't want to put hugely bright lights in their face. A kit of 6 is $1895 (don't know if I'm allowed to mention the website), which looks good, but I'm not sure. I'd also need a background sheet and a stand for it. Also tripods, sandbags, camera cases, etc.

The most expensive lavalier mics I can find look like about $160 each (wired, I see no reason to go for wireless). "Audio-Technica AT803b Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone". Sound is the part I'm probably most concerned about, since I consider it almost more important than the video. I think lavalier mics can cut down on background noise, but this may be the place where I can't do as well as a real studio. I'd use microphones sitting on the table if they would produce better sound, but I don't think the professors would use them properly.

For cameras, I'd like to get three, 1 nice one and 2 cheaper ones. I want the expensive one on the professor for a medium/close up shot, and a backup on the same shot in case the main one fails. He'll be wearing 2 mics (preferably on one clip) going to these two cameras. The third camera (the other cheap one) will be on a wide shot. I'd like the cameras to cut together well even though they're different. I might even have them wear a 3rd mic going into an audio recorder, as another backup (ya never know when equipment will fail, and I seem to be jinxed in that respect).

I currently already have a big old sony 3CCD fullsize-DV camera, but it might be better to just go with High Def. Too bad it's obsolete, it has less than 100 hrs. on it and looks brand new.

The other reason for having so many cameras and lights is because we also want to do a 3-person panel discussion. With 3 cameras, I can have one on each person, and the center (good) one can zoom out to be the wide shot.

I want them to be able to record 3 hours without stopping, and I want to use tape because I won't have time to download stuff to a computer in between professors, I want to just pop in a new tape.

I won't be able to monitor the two side cameras during the panel discussion, I hope that's not a problem. I'm also not sure how I'll monitor audio (I'll probly have to make a custom wire to plug into two cameras and put one into each side of a pair of headphones), but for the panel discussion, again I'll probly only be able to monitor the center camera.

I guess I should go with HD since, even though I'll be producing this to DVD for now, it would be nice to have the tapes for whatever format comes out in the future. I'll need an editing rig also, to edit and make master DVD's. The editing will be very minimal (cutting between cameras, and maybe some minor effect or text at the beginning and end, possibly a few powerpoint slides). I've also noticed that SD downsampled from HD looks much better than native SD stuff. For example, an HD cable channel downsampled to SD by the cable box looks far superior to an SD (but still digital) channel. So I think I'd get a much better result by shooting in HD even if the final product is never in HD.

I have some experience with still photography and have operated a 35mm movie camera (the director on that one complimented my work). I'm still not hugely confident that I can do this so it's not poor quality or cheesy, though. I'm excellent with electronics and technical stuff (have a CS degree), but I should probly still take some kind of home-study course on video making, so I can get all the little details right and not have it look like a local cable TV commercial or America's Funniest Home Video weddings or whatever. I'm not artistic at all.

So, I'm looking for suggestions for 3 cameras (possibly HD, 2 cheaper and 1 more expensive, that will cut well together, cost $10K or a bit more total, and hold 3-hour tapes), and some educational materials that are helpful. Also any comments about my project or any of the other equipment I picked out, especially for audio. And do I need to do makeup?
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Old May 10th, 2010, 11:35 PM   #2
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John, it is hard to tell you where you got to start from.
20.000 will buy you 3 HD cameras with big flash memory, tripods and maybe a decent light kit.
Sound may wary. Some conference rooms have pro sounds systems and you may need just to get the stable feed from them. Otherwise consider at least another 2000-3000 for sound.
Editing station 5000-6000.
Take couple of camera workshops. Play around, just learn the cameras so you will not waste your time guessing.
Definitely take an editing course, maybe short term, it will save you a lot of time and money.
Be prepared to discover the whole new magic world of video)
You can also find a solid production firm that will do the job for you for less than you were estimated and will not give you as much headache as you've got based on your bad experience. Just look around.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 12:18 AM   #3
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Call me up. I'll fly out and do a legit job for considerably less than $20,000.

Seriously though, good for you for thinking twice about giving business to someone who isn't acting very trustworthy. Reading through your post, you seem to have a pretty good idea on what's going on and how to get things done. Ask questions now and don't get burned later.

Buying big expensive cameras to use once seems kind of silly to me. You can get some very nice 1/3" three-chip cameras for around $3,000 each these days, and if you only need one "nice" camera, you might think about certain models that offer both "pro" and "consumer" models. For example the Sony HDR-AX2000 and the HXR-N5U. Both have the same basic controls, form factor and imager, yet the pro model adds some nice features. If you plan on lighting well (and you do) cameras like these will look absolutely stellar. With batteries, cards (I know you said you wanted tape, but SDHC cards are cheap and last a long time) and extras you could easily get three of these for around $10,000. Renting a matched set is also a possibility, with discounted rates for a whole week.

Editing station? Personally, I think you could get by VERY nicely with a newer iMac desktop(<$2,000) – I could cut together multicam sequences 4 years ago on a 13" laptop, so no worries about power. With Final Cut Pro ($999) and an external firewire drive or two ($150) you'd be set.

Audio from Sennheiser G2/G3 wireless mics for the main presenter perhaps? ($500), a RODE shotgun on one or two of the cams ($250). You'll need a mixer as well if you're doing a bunch of wired lavs.

Sounds like you're on the right track. Keep it simple and things will work out great. Hiring on a helper to monitor the other cams might be a good idea. There are some pretty bright students out there that would be more than happy to work for $100 a day, and an extra pair of hands and eyes will be a lifesaver when you're trying to keep the show running smoothly.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 09:37 AM   #4
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Memory cards...

I can't find much information about the HDR-AX2000 and HXR-N5U, but it looks like I'd need about $6,500 worth of SD memory cards (that's for 32GB card at $90, times 3 cameras, times 24 lectures). Like I said, I won't have time in between to download it to a computer, and I also don't want to erase the original media. That's versus about $2,100 for tape, which seems more reasonable.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 10:03 AM   #5
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If I might make a few suggestions...

You can get set up with a group of Sony cams at very reasonable prices that will look great, and match pretty well.

The HDR-AX2000 (Sony | HDR-AX2000 AVCHD Camcorder | HDRAX2000/H | B&H Photo Video) would be my choice as a main camera, it has quite a few pro features including dual memory card slots. Throw a couple 32 Gb cards in there and you can easily cover your three hour requirement. A couple of NP-F970 batteries and you're set. Here's a video with a little more info on the AX2000: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kzoz62R4c8Q

For the second/third cams I'd go with the HDR-CX550V (
Sony | HDR-CX550V 64GB HD Handycam Camcorder | HDR-CX550V | B&H
). Great picture quality, the auto settings work well, and the 64 Gb internal drive + a 32 Gb SD card, and again, plenty of storage.


Are all of these lectures back to back, with no time at all in between? If that's the case, you can just use a couple of sets of cards, just switch them out in between speeches and have one set recording while another set is downloading. There's no real rational reason to store individual SD cards like you would with original tape recordings, just back the video up on another hard drive. That's the beauty of a tapeless video workflow.



As to editing, I would stay away from the whole Mac/FCP mess, and use Sony Vegas Pro. You can build a fast PC for much less than a usable Mac system, and Vegas is half the price of FCP. Not to get into the "which is better" argument at all, I just find Vegas easier to use, and you save quite a bit of money that you can put into mics (the Sennheiser G3's are great), batteries, lights (check out LED lights as well as the fluorescents), cables and all the other fun stuff!
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Old May 11th, 2010, 10:29 AM   #6
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Just curious, what's the point of using batteries and wireless microphones, compared to just plugging everything in? Then I'd have to worry about batteries in everything, and radio interference, and that stuff seems to be expensive?

Should I lug along a UPS and plug everything (lights and cameras) into that in case the power fails? (doesn't seem especially likely, and I think the lecturer would understand resuming after a power failure).

Using batteries on the cameras wouldn't do any good anyway since all the lights would go out.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 10:40 AM   #7
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Also, I'm not planning to bring along a computer (except my crappy old laptop for checking email). I wouldn't want to lug along the editing system (which I probly won't buy till the shoot is done anyway) and so I'd have to buy a laptop and external drive which would add to the camera budget. Plus it's more stuff to do and mess up. So that's why I wanted to stick with tape...

How many hours of video will a 32GB card hold? For 24Mbit video I get about 10 gigs an hour (24/8*60*60=10800MB/hr), so around 3 hours, plus audio. It'd probly be about 2 and a half hours with audio, which would be fine. But, will the camera actually record for that long continuously? In my experience, there are time and size limits with recording to files.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 10:54 AM   #8
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having done this kind of thing myself - for an American University, who wanted it done in an English Stately Home - there are a few things that make these kind of things trickier than they appear. The first thing is professors are almost always boring - because they are intense on their subject, and won't pay attention to the needs of the production. Talking heads are really difficult because edit points don't flow too well. My own style is to use two cameras, either style of the centre line, and then alternate on a shot by shot basis, by getting them to do a turn at the start of the section. Then, when they make a mistake. You can stop. They go back a little and then start again with a turn to camera. This lets you have a proper edit in point each time. The other shot needs to be an 'interest' angle because the speaker won't be looking at the camera, but somewhere else - so if they are not going to be looking at the camera anyway, a wide side view is interesting. If possible, you can then move this from side to side to vary the number of alternatives you have.

They might want information supered over the picture, so check if that's needed - it impacts on the framing. As long as you can vary the zoom between shots you end up with something that looks better.

On the kit front, I understand why you want to buy the kit, but why not just hire it? Maybe buy the editor as that is always handy to have - but decent kit costs plenty, loses it's value quickly and you'd get a decent package for the week for far less outlay. maybe, if you want to do this again, then you would know which items you didn't like, and those you do. For the second project, you'd be in a much stronger position to select what you need.

I personally never use wired lavs any more because they have to come off to go to the toilet, and go back on with sometimes small changes in position which can be heard. Radios are much more convenient, don't cost a lot more than decent wired lavs and have more uses for future jobs. again - hiring for the first time would be good.

If you're going to direct, then you MUST have decent headphones so you can hear all the little unwanted noises you'll pick up - and have the courage to say CUT! Continuity is essential, and you will get ultra bored. I still remember "Unit 37, Christianities Hebrewic Heritage". The content was dull, the delivery dull, and every attempt to brighten it up a little was strongly rejected on the basis that the subject was serious and it wasn't necessary to 'jazz it up' - their words, not mine.

Even though the presenters may be experts and used to doing this live, doing it to a camera can be really difficult for them. Standing between the cameras - pointing wildly to the lens because their eyes have wandered off and lost it is common!

Best of luck!
Paul
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Old May 11th, 2010, 10:58 AM   #9
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Also, looks like with cards it'd be about 2TB of video, so that gets expensive with hard drives, especially laptop hard drives, too (to have a drive and a backup drive). I don't think I've seen a laptop with 2TB of storage (32GB * 3cameras * 24lectures = 2304GB).
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Old May 11th, 2010, 11:16 AM   #10
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As long as you have a card reader & usb ports, your old laptop should work fine for downloading the cards, just get a nice beefy external drive to copy to. 2Gb externals can easily be found for under $200. (for starters: Newegg.com - Computer Hardware,Hard Drives,External Hard Drives,1TB and higher,2TB) Or you could go with a nice 4Tb RAID, and have everything duplicated right away. (Newegg.com - G-TECH G-RAID 4TB USB 2.0 / IEEE 1394b / eSATA Dual-Drive Storage System GR44000)

There's no need to take an editing system with you, just the drive to download to.

Those cameras will record continuously until they're out of space. The only place I've seen file size limits lately is with DSLR's, and that's outside the scope of what you're looking at setting up, so it shouldn't be a problem. Also, the audio stream is part of the 10Gb/hour data stream, so unless you're recording second system (separate) audio, it's all one file.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 11:39 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Cantwell View Post
As to editing, I would stay away from the whole Mac/FCP mess, and use Sony Vegas Pro.
Hey now! :)

Just curious, what camera were you thinking of in your budget that can record 3 hours to a single tape? A quick look through B&H shows one DVCAM Sony 2/3" that does it in 4:3 for about $8,000. Sounds like old technology to me.

Another huge advantage to cards is that the footage is instantly editable afterwards, without needing to log and capture everything. How much is 54 hours of your time worth? What you're hearing is right, nearly any laptop will be able to hook up to a USB hard drive and dump footage. Mirrored RAID arrays are cheap these days, so having duplicates is a no-brainer. 6 cards should be plenty if you're doing one 3-hour lecture a day. Recording time specs for the AX-2000 say 170min in Linear PCM audio and 180min in Dolby with 32GB cards.

Plug the cameras into the wall - no need for batteries. Also, renting at least the audio equipment might be a good idea since you need a fair amount that, in my case, would sit around collecting dust afterwards.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 11:44 AM   #12
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Paul, thanks for your post.

The past few times I've rented equipment it was broken and not usable (like I said, I seem to be jinxed) and I can't show up on the day of the shoot with non-working cameras. I'd probably be renting them locally and then going to the location so I couldn't pop in and exchange them either. I'd rather have time to learn the camera and experiment with it instead of just trying to figure it all out on the first day. Rented equipment is usually heavily abused and so has many problems.

Thanks for your suggestions on camera placement. Do you have any recommendations for a background beyond a textured sheet and maybe some artificial plants? I'm planning to have the professor stand behind a lecturn or podium, do you think this is a good idea?

Thanks again.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 11:55 AM   #13
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Nate,

I think I'll be getting a PC-based editing solution since this will also be my main computer for the next few years (I can justify it better if I'm using it for more than editing this one thing).

I wouldn't mind buying the audio equipment since it doesn't really go out of date like the cameras do, and we''re planning to do more of these programs.

Question about plugged in cameras: If the power fails, does it scramble whatever I've recorded up to that point? Or, can the filesystem used on these things deal with power loss?

I'll actually be doing 4 two-hour lectures per day (but I want a 32GB card in case it runs over the 2 hours, I don't want it to cut off if the prof talks a bit longer). I won't have time in between to download, so I'd probly need 12 plus maybe some spares.

I could get a cheap netbook (been wanting one anyway) and a couple of external drives (from a computer guy point of view, RAID is NOT a backup solution; if someone steals it or the filesystem gets corrupted, I'm screwed, whereas if I keep one drive in my hotel room and one locked in my car, then if something happens to one I still have the other). I like the idea of not having to play all the tape into the computer.
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Old May 11th, 2010, 12:42 PM   #14
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You'll have plenty of time to download when you're recording, since the AX2000 has dual hot-swappable card slots. You can pull out the full card while the other one records, and pop in a fresh one.

At 5:39 in this video YouTube - Sony HDR-AX2000 AVCHD Camcorder card slots are shown & explained. :)
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Old May 11th, 2010, 08:08 PM   #15
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I'm not sure what to do about a background. I was thinking of a mottled one like photographers use, but it's pretty boring. Should I use a green screen and put something else in, or does that look cheesy?
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