Greetings from a train buff in Oxfordshire at
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These Are the People in Your Neighborhood
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Old May 21st, 2004, 10:27 AM   #1
Major Player
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Oxford, UK
Posts: 422
Greetings from a train buff in Oxfordshire


I've just joined the DV Info boards, so let me introduce myself. I live near Oxford in England. I spend my working hours writing computer programs (Oracle databases, old IBM mainframes, Windows/PC systems...), and I spend most of my own time on music (mainly English folk) and steam trains.

Trains: I work as a volunteer signalman on the Watercress Line (, a preserved branch line in Hampshire. I've been doing this since 1983. Steam trains are my main video subject. I started by taking stills, but soon realised that I was taking sequences of stills from a movie, so I borrowed my granddad's super-8 cine camera, and never looked back.

Taking video of trains ought to be easy. In theory, you know exactly where the train will go, and when it will arrive. All you have to do is choose a good location, be ready, and get the pan and/or zoom smooth. However, you are always outdoors, you don't have control over light and sound (apart from the position of the camera), and there's never a second take. You must make the best of what you're given. I suppose this is true for anyone filming a "live" event, be it a sports match, a concert, a political rally, wild animals or the kids in the back garden.

My first video camera (1990) was a JVC GR77(?) S-VHS-C, which lasted about 6 years, followed by a Panasonic S-VHS-C that is still going. Both were second-hand. In 2000 I moved up to mini-DV with a new Canon XM1, which I am still using.

I have always used a separate microphone, usually mounted on the hot-shoe socket. On the JVC I used a JVC mono hyper-cardioid mic, but since the Panasonic is stereo I bought an unbranded stereo mic for about 50 that is the spitting image of one that AKG sell. It's moderately good at rejecting off-axis sound, but bass response is not good. Then I saw a Senheiser MKE300 in a sale, and that is what I normally use now (with a mono-to-stereo adapter lead). The problem with the MKE300, especially on the Canon, is that it is not very well insulated, mechanically, from the mounting. When I used it on the hot-shoe socket, it picked up a low rumble from the tape motors and a whine from the zoom. I get around this by mounting it on a bracket, intended for a flash-gun, which is just flexible enough to absorb most of the vibrations.

I always use a tripod - I'm hopeless at holding the camera still. I've used a Manfroto tripod and fluid head (model 136?) for nearly ten years. It pans and tilts quite smoothly but it's heavy to carry around. Also, I find that at long focal lengths it does not absorb motion from my shaky hands on the pan-handle. Maybe nothing will.

Last year I bought a new PC (from powerful enough to run an NLE program. The one I chose was Pinnacle Edition, then in v4.5. I chose it in preference to Premier 6, but without knowing much about what the other alternatives were. I now have Liquid Edition v5.5, and there is a lot that I like about it. However, I'd not be doing half so well without the invaluable help of the Pinnacle and Computer Video web-boards. The other program that I have found really useful is Scenalyzer Live. I use it for all of my capture. Although my current version of LE doesn't use my DV500 board, SCLive does, so I can still do analogue capture - essential with 10 years of S-VHS archive.

During my first year of editing, I have produced five programmes about steam trains of between 25 and 50 minutes. My style is very simple: long shots of the trains, no commentary, simple sub-titles, no fancy effects, simple cuts or cross-fade transitions. I probably will never use most of the things that LE will do! On the other hand, it's colour correction facilities, excellent MPEG encoding and DVD-authoring from the time-line are really valuable, and the day I really need those 3D editors I'll have everything I need (I hope). I have put the programmes onto two DVDs, and I'm offering them to the public in return for donations to one of the railway preservation societies that I belong to. If you're interested, have a look at

I'm always thinking about whether to upgrade my equipment, and if so what to get. At the moment, I'm pondering tripods (see above) and microphones. I need a mic that is strongly directional and easily mounted on or beside the camera, so that it pans with it. The Sennheiser ME66 seems to be everybody's favourite, but how does one mount it on the camera, shield it from the wind and plug it into the XM1's 3.5mm jack-socket, without making the assemblage too cumbersome? Also, it is important to be able to set up and take down quickly, and it needs to be fairly small and light for carrying around. What are the alternatives?

These are the sorts of things I've joined this board to find out about. I know there's a huge archive, and I've only just begun to start searching it...

If you've read all the way to here, thanks for your interest. I promise not to ramble on about trains on the board (unless provoked).
Steam Age Pictures - videos in aid of railway preservation societies.
Mark Fry is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 21st, 2004, 03:32 PM   #2
Outer Circle
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Hope, BC
Posts: 7,524
Welcome, Mark! I used to work on trains!

Regarding your questions, you should post them on the other forums for better feedback. For example, the audio question should go to "Now Hear This."
Frank Granovski is offline   Reply With Quote
Old May 22nd, 2004, 01:07 PM   #3
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: Hampshire, England
Posts: 1,543
Hi Mark,

Glad to see more people from the UK...

I live quite close to the watercress line. I can remember many a journey in my childhood, riding on the stream trains.

Your're amongst friends here Mark, so feel free to post all you want, but remember take your shoes off at the door :)

All the best,

Ed Smith
Hampshire, UK

Good things come to those who wait

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