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Old January 24th, 2009, 02:23 AM   #1
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Filming peregrine falcons

I'm new to the forum, a birder foremost but aspiring to make short films also. In 2008 have been using very limited equipment to document the progress of a pair of peregrines over a season; in 2006 they set up nest near my home. I have a license to do this from Scottish Natural Heritage as this is a legal requirement in Scotland. I hope to do better this year using a Canon XL-H1A. The peregrine site is difficult to access so I need to travel as light as possible. I'm keen to record good audio as well as HD video as the bird sounds at the nest are very interesting to listen to. There are two vantage points where the birds can be observed without creating any disturbance, 100 and 200m from the nest. Can anyone advise about an appropriate mic rig ? and any other equipment which might help in my project.

I hesitate to post a link to last year's effort (shot using a Canon IXUS 960 compact via a Leica birding 'scope) - I realise there is (i) some unsteady camera work due to wind and a flimsy tripod, (ii) vignetting, (iii) rough editing and (iv) no audio other than music but it gives an idea of the location and what I'm aspiring to improve on in 2009: YouTube - Peregrine Falcon Fantasia

Last edited by Neil Grubb; January 24th, 2009 at 02:28 AM. Reason: omission
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Old January 24th, 2009, 03:10 AM   #2
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You are far too modest Neil - that's great footage. Looking forward to see some clips from your new Canon.
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Old January 24th, 2009, 03:55 AM   #3
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I agree, not bad at all. Seems like you're getting a decent image from the scope set up (difficult to tell from YouTube really).
As for kit, the XL-H1 is a good camera, at that range you'll need something like 400-600mm lens I'd say - you may need to shoot early morning to eliminate haze with that sort of magnification. And then a good tripod and head, the heavier the better. For a head you should really be looking at something over 3kg, maybe a Ronford F4 (5kg), Sachtler Video 25 (6kg) or better yet an O'Connor 2060 (9kg!), plus some sturdy legs. If budgets are severly limited the Manfrotto 116 head is beefy and reasonably smooth.
Steve
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Old January 24th, 2009, 06:36 AM   #4
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Hi Neil,

Beautiful birds aren't they! Nice video on YouTube! If you can produce reasonable footage with the old set-up you'll have no problems getting good footage with the Canon.

For audio at that distance I'll probably need a Parabolic Reflector to obtain good tight sound. This however isn't light. Check out Telinga Parabolic Microphone.

For light-weight work I use a Sennheiser MKH416 with a windjammer.

Hope this helps a little.
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Old January 24th, 2009, 09:47 PM   #5
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I don't post very often but I had to let you know that I really enjoyed your video! I am a big fan of raptors, in general, and even do some volunteering for a raptor rescue group in our area. I've been considering doing some video of a pair of American Kestrels near where we live but they are a little more difficult than falcons as they tend to dwell in cavities in trees.

The only thing I can think of on your video is that I would have loved to have heard the voices of the falcons. Watching the falcons take care of the eggs and then the young ones was amazing. Thank you so much for sharing it with us! They are beautiful birds, indeed.
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Old January 25th, 2009, 02:01 AM   #6
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Paul - thank you for the advice about mics. The Telinga system looks very good - I don't know whether I have to buy a seperate audio recorder or whether I can plug this directly into the camera ? I'll check this out, happy to buy recorder if need be as I've budgeted generously for extra gear.

Steve - you're right, I need a decent video head. I took the camera out for a try-out today and my still camera tripod head is hopeless! I need to get the balance right between portability and stability. I'm doing my work solo, so will go for a head at the lighter end of the range you suggest here.

Colin - thank you for your kind comments but I have been humbled by the standard set in this forum and realise I have much to learn. But that's what it's all about! I'll be sure to post more of my work for feedback and comment as part of this learning process.

Lynne - I'm glad you enjoyed the video. Unfortunately the mic on my compact Ixus is very poor and I didn't have any other means of audio recording at the time, hence the lack of natural / ambient sound. This year's work will be better, I hope.

Neil
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Old January 25th, 2009, 07:00 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Neil Grubb View Post
Paul - thank you for the advice about mics. The Telinga system looks very good - I don't know whether I have to buy a seperate audio recorder or whether I can plug this directly into the camera ? I'll check this out, happy to buy recorder if need be as I've budgeted generously for extra gear.
Hi Neil,

If your camera has a balanced 48v XLR Phantom power supply you can attach it straight to your camera. It'll be easier to edit the sound in sync with your footage that way. It'll be a bit tougher if you record the sound independently and try to cut it in sync later (Can be done of course). Atmospheres are easy to cut in. Try and capture as much atmosphere as possible as it'll make the editing easier. In that case I'd definitely record to an independent source for three reasons;

1. Save wear and tear on your camera.
2. Easier to just record atmospheres while waiting for a shot and not to have alter any settings on the camera (Basically it'll be ready to go when you need it - the camera that is).
3. Sometimes I just go out with the intention of capturing atmospheres for editing purposes and carrying an independent recorder and microphones is much easier that lugging a camera around (thus brings me back to point 1).

Check out the Fostex FR2-LE which records to Compact Flash Cards and is incredible value for money!
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Old January 25th, 2009, 07:40 AM   #8
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Hi Neil

Nice footage with this equipment, that will be excelent with the Canon XL-h1, for the lens be careful with long focal lens, 400 mm is a maximum, the ideal is Sigma 120-300/f2,8 or 70-200/f2,8 Canon and a very good tripod and fluid head, Miller is a good quality/price/weight
(Miller Solo with DS20 or Arrow 25) the others are good, i use a Vinten carbon tripod with a Vinten 11 fluid head (second hand).

It's very difficult to focus at long distance with a long focal lens, the ideal is around 100/200m no more, the subject must occupied a good part of the viewer to have a fine tuning of the "point of view".

Regards

Gilles
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Old January 25th, 2009, 11:39 AM   #9
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Very impressive video Neil, especially considering it was vidiscoped. As for your audio question, I agree with Paul. A parabolic microphone is probably what you need. They tend to be a bit pricy as you can see from the link he provided. I have two. One is a 14” commercial model from a company long since out of business. It could record at that distance but would miss a lot of sound. I also have a 36” home made (polyurethane and plastic laminate made from instructions from Scientific American’s Amateur Scientist- the build is way too complicated to go into here). It can easily record at 100-200 yards. I have recorded Barred Owls on a quiet night that were almost a mile away. I’ll probably build another based on one I saw in use last year in the Rio Grande Valley. The fellow there placed a condenser mic on a dowel in front of a large wok. It worked very well. I priced a 30” wok at my local Restaurant Supply at under $25. Woks aren’t perfect parabolas but it doesn’t matter. Actually, a cone of focus of 4-5” diameter is more useful for microphone work than the ½ “ used for solar cookers. I’d replace the condenser mic with a short shotgun so the mic’s pick-up pattern more closely matches the reflector’s cone of focus. You might want to borrow the kitchen wok and experiment in the back garden before jumping into an expensive commercial model. I think you’ll be surprised.
Here are some other thoughts about parabolic mics. They are very directional. You have to aim them just as carefully as telephoto lenses. They can be a pain in weather. You’re presenting a large sail to the wind. They are true amplifiers. Not only is the sound you want to record increased, so is the noise. While the S/N ratio remains the same the amplitude of the noise is greatly increased and so is it’s perception. This can cause problems when editing sound from one with sound from other sources. Nothing insurmountable, just more work. In practice, I find it really difficult to use one while I’m using the camera. I have often wished to be an Indian demigod with one hand for the pan/tilt arm, one for the focus ring, two for the mic, one for the light, ect.
Here is another approach you might think about, although it wouldn’t work for me. I met a man from Utah that had worked at a Peregrine nest. He convinced researchers that were using ropes to band the fledglings to place a wireless mic with a large battery pack under a rock about two feet from the nest. He got about two weeks of high quality sound before the battery went flat and he sacrificed the mic. I have used a wireless mic at songbird nests; it was placed over a branch near the nest. I recorded the wireless mic to one channel and the shotgun to the other. Sound quality was comparable. The wireless did get some quiet sounds that the shotgun missed.
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Old January 26th, 2009, 09:24 AM   #10
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Sticks, heads, and mics

In case this would help, I did a tremendous amount of testing of various sticks and heads for solo wildlife shooting using cameras mostly in the H1, XL2, EX1/3 range but that could also handle a small Beta/DVCam, etc (this was a year or so ago when those were still pretty common). At any rate, I found that the best value was the Miller Solo sticks with either a smaller Sachtler head (best option, more costly) or a Miller 10 or 20 head (only slightly less perfect in diagonal moves, definitely more affordable). The amount of testing I did (and complex spreadsheets with results) was...well, embarrassing. But it paid off. The Solo sticks, in particular, are absolutely outstanding! Just an FYI.

Also, as to the custom parabolic mic concept, I was wondering about using something like a cone they make for dogs after a surgery. It has a hole cutout in the concave back of the cone (where the dog's head would be) that could relatively easily be use to hang a mic in (drill holes, add industrial rubber bands like you would see in a boom, etc.). Not sure if that would work (audio acoustics is not my forte). I'm wondering about the opening where the mic pops through and how that would affect the "capturing" of the distance audio and also curious what kinds of mics would work best . For example, would a hyper-cardiod work better than a cardiod? Or would something that directional not pick up the reverberating (right word?) audio being funneled by the cone? Last, rather particular question, would be if these cones experience/cause phase cancellation?

-Ramsey
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Old January 26th, 2009, 12:55 PM   #11
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If you’re thinking of building a Parabolic Reflector then read this article!

Also check out this!.

Hope it helps guys!
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Old January 26th, 2009, 01:25 PM   #12
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Absolutely does help. Thank you!

Another sound (besides wildlife) I'm trying to better capture (and isolate) is the sound of a boot when it strikes a football (soccer). Any tips for that? I'm not sure how to isolate that, say a strike from the keeper, while minimizing the fans behind.

- Ramsey
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Old January 26th, 2009, 01:34 PM   #13
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Another sound (besides wildlife) I'm trying to better capture (and isolate) is the sound of a boot when it strikes a football (soccer). Any tips for that? I'm not sure how to isolate that, say a strike from the keeper, while minimizing the fans behind.
Foley is probably that best way to do that!
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Old January 26th, 2009, 02:14 PM   #14
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Foley is probably that best way to do that!
Sounds like a great excuse to put down the camera and go play! ha ha. Thanks.
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Old January 27th, 2009, 03:13 PM   #15
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Thanks to all for the very helpful advice so far.

I have now uploaded my peregrine movie onto Vimeo, which gives a better idea of the end result than the YouTube version:

Falcon Fantasia on Vimeo

Neil
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