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Shooting non-repeatable events: weddings, recitals, plays, performances...


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Old June 1st, 2012, 02:37 PM   #1
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Second Amateur Recital Video

As some may remember, I had some rather lengthy posts regarding a dance recital video production approximately one year ago. Well guess what? I've been asked to do it again this year at the requests of many of last year's customers!

The recital is tomorrow and I have a quick question on cameras. Last year I used a Sony XR500 as my main cam and a CX160 as a secondary fixed cam. The CX160 didn't fair so well, so I just bought a XR550 to use this year. I just got the XR550 and haven't had a chance to experiment with it. I'm guessing that it will be very comparable to the XR500, but I'm looking for any advice Sony users may have for this event. Any noticeable differences between these cams? Which should I use as my main cam and which should be fixed? The fixed cam will be high up in the auditorium and the main cam will be on the floor (on a riser) just behind the floor seats.

Thanks!
Brad
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Old June 1st, 2012, 03:55 PM   #2
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Not related to your specific question....but why would you put the fixed cam way up high?? I always have both cams with me. One wide on the whole stage, the other for medium/close shots. Just trying to understand the rational for putting it up high?
As to your other question....I'm not familiar with those cams....but if I had a choice with 2 different cams I would use the one that looks better for the close shots and the not so good one for wide. Just my 2 cents...

Mark
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Old June 1st, 2012, 04:29 PM   #3
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Hi Brad -

I'm fairly sure the sensor should be comparable, but IIRC, the 550 has a "wider" lens than the 500? I THINK that was the model year where they went from around 35mm to 26 or 29mm (?) so that would tend to be the choice for the "wide". Otherwwise, set them the same, and you should get footage that will intercut nicely. While Sony does do some tweaks between model years and models, those two should be fairly close overall, definitely less headache than trying to match a 1xx to a 5xx series!

I'd concur with having both cams close to you, in case you need to reframe or make adjustments - two tripods, or rig up a multi-head rig (I tooled one up so I can have 3 cams on one tripod... and even lash a small P&S to the upright if needed).

Other than that, have a good time!
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 01:43 AM   #4
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Welcome back, Brad.

The settings menus will be very nearly identical so using similar settings should give you well matched results. I'd suggest following the same set-up you used last year. From the excerpts you posted, it seemed to give pretty good results for the venue and set-up. Your second camera is an improvement over the CX160. The CX and XR cams are surprisingly robust when left to their own devices, as several of us commented last year.

Mark:
There are pros and cons to any set-up, and there was a lot of discussion about them in last year's verrryyyy long thread. Rather than go over that ground again, I'll just refer you to:

Amateur Recital Video Editing

As you will see from that thread, the only consensus on a "right" way was that there are tradeoffs in every choice and the "right way" is to do what works best for you.
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 11:26 AM   #5
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Thanks guys for the advice. I'm actually shooting in a different venue today with even more limitations. The idea of the high fixed cams is basically to provide a different angle and I feel that some dancers that may be in the back can be seen better from that view. The main cam that I am operating is mostly going to be fixed for most of the performances only panning and zooming on solos and little ones. It will allow for tighter framing of smaller groups but the high cams will allow cuts for different perspectives. The CX160 wasn't terrible and I'm actually using it high rear right with the XR500 high rear left and main cam on floor just right of center.

I've had so many people commending last year's video so this year's should be so much better. I also have a Zoom H1 recorder this year. I tested it out placed right in front of the stage at dress rehearsal and I really like the sound it provides, particularly in the tap routines.

Show starts at 2:00 so wish me luck! I'm excited!
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 11:43 AM   #6
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

I see the equipment bug has bitten. ;-) You start small and cheap. You discover how to give folks something they can't do with their individual cams and smart phones. Suddenly, you are mutli-camming three cameras and a Zoom audio recorder.

What is next? Well, coincidentally, I've just packed up for a large recital tonight. Six cameras, wireless audio feeds, a video feed for the dancers in the green room, and on it goes. Now I can no longer get all the gear into the venue in one trip. See what happens when you aren't careful?
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 12:10 PM   #7
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

I think the idea of two cameras from the same location just doesn't work quite so well as two spaced. For my theatre work - light entertainment style, I always try to get a centre position, ideally at the back of the stalls, but I'm quite happy if it has to be in the Gods - which gives really good clasps, because the background is often the floor! These high angle shots also reveal the lighting that hits the floor - really handy if there are lots of gobos and effects on the go. The other camera goes as close to the stage edge from the side. This often reveals the people upstage behind the front row - which helps for dance, you 'see' more people. With a third camera, it goes the other side. This position does have the drawback that you lose people if they are upstage and only just on. A go pro on a sticky pod sat right at the front also doesn't get in the way - although the very wide angle does look very strange.

There's a rough cut example of three cameras here
This was the multi cam clip with no editing - to show the production company what the go pro looked like - so excuse the often random edits - in this venue, a central camera was not possible because all seats were sold and there was nowhere for a centre camera anywhere - so this one is two edge cams in the circle - one wide angle unmanned and the other camera same position plus about 8 ft higher, the other side.
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 03:02 PM   #8
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Somehow that GoPro fisheye is jarring... I understand the goal, but there must be another less extreme way to get there?

Wouldn't something like a handycam with a WA adapter get close without being quite so distorted? Otherwise, great example of how to use muliple cams/angles!
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Old June 2nd, 2012, 04:11 PM   #9
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

I use a sony xr500 and a 520 for dance recitals but they are basically the same camera, just different harddrive size, love these tiny camera's, much better then my xh-a1 for low light shots. I just use the 500 for a static shot, showing the entire stage and that will be my safety, with the 520 I just zoom in closer to follow the action. I always have one camera on the left of me, one on the right so I can monitor both. The zoom is sooo smooth, the colour is great and there is no grain visible, it actually shows me the same image I can see with my bare eye's when it gets real dark, quite impressive for such a small chipper. I also love how easy it is to do a quick spotfocus just before the recital starts and then assign exposure to that tiny wheel on the front of the camera so I can adjust if light is too complex for the camera to decide for itself, only too bad manual exposure adjustments are not smooth. I edit a dance recital in just a day since I don't have to color correct, just plain cutting. I might get me a new 730 because of the wider angle.
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Old June 3rd, 2012, 01:18 PM   #10
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

The go pro just looks odd when people are close - it'd ok for when people are upstage, but not a flattering viewpoint. It can also provide some shots that maybe shouldn't be seen - think skirts and twirls. Back row on centre is by far the nicest viewpoint - but very difficult to achieve in some venues. One venue I use has a follow spot box that hangs from the ceiling, and a single level auditorium, and we've got a brilliant centre position that isn't too high, but clear of the audiences silhouettes.
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Old June 4th, 2012, 06:08 PM   #11
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Noa's comment about using the XR cams got me reflecting on a discussion here several years ago. I think it was Philip Howells who started a thread in the weddings forum --- sorry, I haven't been able to find it --- and basically suggested that some small HD cams are getting good enough that you might get better and easier coverage of events like wedding ceremonies by using an array of the relatively less expensive small cams than you could with one or two larger, more professional cams that sometimes seem to invoke the ire of officiants.

I was thinking about that on Saturday as I set up for the large recital that I shot with six cameras. With six cameras, I did not have to work out the questions that were being discussed here, such as whether to shoot from above versus shooting low, nor sort out whether to shoot with cameras together and controlled versus spread apart. I could pretty much do everything and pick the best shots in editing. And that got me back to thinking about how small cams like the Sony CX760 and similar Panasonic and Canon models would reduce the costs of event multi-camming as Phillip suggested.

Now, I do have to say that I start out agreeing with Paul about camera placement. My personal preferences run in the same direction. (And note that I said these are personal preferences.)

Like him, I want to put a couple of cameras close to the stage and aim them to shoot from one corner across to another. Whether they go low or high depends on the venue. Saturday night's recital was in a large WPA-era auditorium with a huge room and a very large, elevated proscenium stage with an orchestra pit in front of it. I placed a CX cam at each end of the pit, aimed diagonally across the stage to pick up the front and a swath to the opposite back corner of the stage. As the lighting was supposed to be relatively steady throughout the production (there were only two blackouts in the 3 hour show), I could set AE to -2 and invoke face-priority auto focus, activate "low lux" (for just in case), and otherwise let the cameras run on their own programming. If there had been much use of spotlights, I likely would have activated the spotlight setting, but there was no need.

The effect of having these relatively close cams is very clean, clear video that allows one to see a lot of the stage action without having to zoom in and without havng to worry about jump cuts when editing. The downside to this placement is that one cannot always see the upstage dancers and one cannot follow action to the far side of the diagonal view. But, then. that is where a multi-cam set-up lets you cut to other views.

There is something to be said for also having shots looking down from above. I thought Paul's video illustrated this very well. (Okay, apart from for the odd-seeming distortion from the GoPro experiment. The difficulty for me was that I am conditioned by a lifetime of media and shows to the distortion as suggesting some story element which just was not present in the stage show.)

Both Paul and Brad have highlighted reasons why a downward view can be useful or desireable. For Saturday's event, I had two more cameras high and to the sides of the room with full stage shots from not quite halfway back in the room. These were positioned on the walkways to the balcony seating. Because the balcony seating was not in use --- the audience was "only" enough to mostly fill the 900-seat main floor seating --- I had free rein in positioning cameras. The two "high" side cam were framed to get full stage coverage. Not as near as Paul apparently had his cams, but each could more or less see the entire stage for cut-away shots and full stage views. (One of these cams also fed two video screens by cables to the dancer's green room so those not-on-stage could still see the show.) Since I am editing this for DVD, I can do some tricks with this HD footage during editing. These include pulling a somewhat tighter framing when smaller groups are on stage. This is akin to using digital zoom on the cameras where a judicious but small amount is helpful without noticably degrading the image. It also gives variety to the eye and may be especially helpful in providing additional views in very high energy dances.

Finally, I ran two more cams together from front and center in the balcony. Doing this gave me the centered view that Paul discussed. Doing it with two cams allowed me to run one camera at full stage width while the other is used for closer or close-up shots much as described by Mark, Noa and Dave. More than that, however, having two controlled cams gives the flexibility to run multiple close-ups, particularly when I need close-shots on different parts of the stage. (If I had another camera operator, this gets even easier, but I mostly work solo.) Maybe your area's dance-school choreography is different, but in my area I see numbers of dances where the dancers divide up into duos or trios or such and each moves out to opposite sides or ends of the stage to perform there for a bit. Catching them with a wide cam leaves a lot of empty real estate in the middle of the frame and makes it hard for the parents to recognize their dancers. With the two controlled cams, I can have zooms to each side of the stage and later make make split screen or PIP effects to show them together (albeit with a dileneating/separating border or other division between them. That way, the parents get to recognize and watch their children and I do not have to hear complaints about why somebody's child not getting enough close-ups in the video.

The center position I picked on Saturday was at the front of the balcony, roughly 75 feet (35 meters) from the the stage. This is out at the end of the optical zoom range for the 10x zooms of the CX cams. (some of the CX and XR models claim to have longer optical reaches on their zooms --- say 25x --- but it seems to me that the image quality falls off significantly when you get out beyond about 12x with these small lenses.) In this instance, , a full 10x zoom with the CX550 cams would basically show a full frame of medium size dancer, head to toe. This is generally a good thing for dancers. That is the most I am zooming except for the really young ones and that is where the face shots will be the money shots for their parents. There is the possibility of using some digital zoom in the camera, of course. I know Dave has several postings where he discusses the judicious use of digital zoom, indicating that some cams you can go another 10x or so before image quality starts degrading to unusability. My personal preference is to fiddle with that in editing where I have better control over how many pixels I'm losing and can correct things when I overshoot the mark.

The method of camera control that Noa described is pretty much what I would have done if I had been using CX cams instead of the NX5/FX1000 combo that I was using for my center cams. The little cams have some pretty amazing and pretty robust programming. Noa noted that his similar XR cams go considerably deeper into dim light than his XH-A1. I have an XHA1, as well, and can confirm that. Equally important, though, is the CX/XR cam's programming is good enough to allow very large boosts in gain with no and very little video noise. My CX cams can go to +18db before I start seeing video noise in their images. It is amazingly clean video. In contrast, I start seeing noticeable graniness when my XHA1 starts getting near 6 dB of boost. With my NX5 and FX1000 (having the same optics and sensors), noise starts kicking in around 9 dB or a little higher.

Why would I need to worry about video noise when shooting a stage performance? Well, let me step you through the thought processes I went through in setting up my FX/NX combo. .

For camera placement, I could very well have put the the NX/FX combo on the main floor against the back wall --- what Paul called behind the stalls. The floor sloped enough and the stage was high enough that I could shoot the dancers without having audience heads in the bottom of the frame. That postion would give the kind of centered, full-on view that Paul was talking about and for which he was experimenting with the GoPro.

I thought about possibly leaving my FX setup downstairs against the back wall as a fixed cam. But this shoot was in what passes for our state's largest city. (Although you folks from large urban areas would call it a mere village.) It makes me nervous to leave a large camera unattened in the darkened back of the theater where I cannot see it and where somebody could just walk off with it.

Also, the back wall of the room was probably something like 160 feet (50 meters) from the back of the stage. The zooms of NX/FX lenses certainly have the reach for getting close-ups from there --- or at least, getting as close as needed for dance.. But, the more you zoom, the less wide the iris can go. The iris is f/1.7 at full wide but only f/3.4 at full zoom. This was trouble because the obsolescent (antique?) old stage lighting had uneven coverage and was not especially bright, in any event. Following dancers into the dimmer areas of the stage required at least f/2.8. One could boost the gain but, on the FX/NX cam, that risks introducing grain/noise.

Another problem with this kind of distance and uneven lighting is that it complicates the semi-manual focus I often use for recording stage performances with NX/FX cams. Basically, I run the zoom out to full and focus on something with sharp edges. (Peaking functions help here. as does the the expanded focus function.) Then, when I pull back back, everything stays in focus as I zoom in and out. As long as I do not change the iris too much. If I'm in a brightly lit area and adjust the exposure back to, say, f/5.6 or smaller, then the focus starts getting soft because of the changes in aperture.

By moving upstairs and to the front of the balcony, I avoided those problems. I was close enough that the maximum zoom I used still left me with f/2.8 and the brightest lightling areas (see from that angle) only need about f/4.4 with iris. These big cameras do not have the face priority settings that are available on the CX cams, so I have to ride the iris rings where I would have to do much less of that with the CX cams. The NX/FX cams also have large lens rings for controlling zoom, and these are pretty easy for me to operate in the dark with my fat old fingers. I can also operate the rocker switches. One thing about the big cams is that the sheer mass makes them less sesnistive to being adjusted. With the CX cams, I find they bounce a bit unless I've kept my hands on them. Not a problem when you have cut-away shots as you do when multi-camming.

Having said all of this, I can say that I am not planning on getting rid of any of my "big gun" cameras. I have enough other gigs where I genuinely need and use their capabilities. But I do find myself thinking that, if I can get a few more paying jobs for theater and and dance shoots, I might want to maybe pick up a couple of additional CX 550. Actually, I want an NX30, but it is not in the budget, so I may have to settle for a used or back-stock CX 550.
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Old June 5th, 2012, 12:30 AM   #12
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Re: Second Amateur Recital Video

Yep, small cams are sure "handy", as advertised! I'm cutting back a couple because the Sony A65's I got shoot video quite nicely (I can work around 29 minute clip length... and darn that sweet DoF... lousy for live stage, but for small event shoots... lots of production value!). I'm even experimenting with smaller P&S cams that shoot fairly decent quality 60p video...

BUT, because of that, there are a couple CX550V's and at least one CX700V that are going off my inventory... thought I'd mention it, if you're looking to pick up a couple additional cams shoot me a PM... Somehow I wonder if I'll regret trimming the fleet, but I guess I got sucked into the "SLR" look!
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