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Cameragod down under came up with a novel concept to booster the rep of one of my favorite sites – b-roll. (b-roll is the go-to site for broadcast news cameramen to discuss gear, gossip and more.)
Here is his tip – and a great one it is. I would never have thought of this.
And here is my tip – and oldie but goodie. Especially if you’re fairly new to the biz.
I look forward to more of these and hope to learn from an amazing group of peers.
…technologies that is.
So in my gear bags I have stuff that is more than a decade old that can be married with my new toys. We’re talking June-December weddings here folks. Analog and digital. Fresh out of the box and faded with time.
My mainstay tripod/now too heavy for everyday use (purchased in 2002) is firmly fixed to the short jib I got a year ago. Old heavy tripod is a perfect base for a jib. Can hold the twenty pound weights and give a stable platform for shooting.
Ditto the XLR cables and Electrovoice mike. Old technology…heck dating back to the seventies (not mine but the concept). It can be married to any out-of-the-box camera.
I guess what I’m getting at is that while new is nice and in some cases better, some old stuff just won’t die.
I have a Canon ZR10…picked it up on ebay a few years ago. I have fond memories of my first digital camera…same camera…that I got right after bailing from news in 2002. Just couldn’t live without a camera in hand and it was affordable at the time (on a rookie teacher’s stipend).
That little baby still works and I pull it out occasionally just for old times sake. It has an amazing zoom, audio inputs…and while the quality is most definitely NOT high def, it puts out an acceptable image.
My gear bags are a combination of new and old, fresh-faced and creaky-old. I keep what works and find ways to marry it with what is current to make images that matter.
So if you’re out there in dreamtime wanting the best and newest, realize that it’s only gear. What really counts is your vision…what comes out of using the gear. Videojournalism is NOT about having all of the toys. It is about telling the story.
…again. Retro can be all the rage…and if you haven’t skidded over the 30 year mark, then either sit back and enjoy the ride or skedaddle. If you’re looking back at fifty, enjoy the memories.
It’s happened again.
There’s a whole generation now who have not lived without something I could never have conceived of at their age.
I was the generation that thought transistor radios, cars and TV were just, well, ordinary. (My folks saw them as a foothold to the future.) But then man landed on the moon and we all saw stars and beyond. The universe was ours.
Next thing you know we have a generation who ho-hums space exploration. In fact, they see it as something their parents and grandparents did. None of that stuff for them…they’d rather send out the robots.
Today co-author and friend Larry Nance sent me a link to something from our past…from the early days of visual storytelling.
Back in the day we shot on something called film. Kind of a bendable plastic coated on one side with a thin veneer of silver hallaide embedded in a gel. (I’m hoping here that the lesson of silver tarnishing in reaction to sunlight hasn’t been forgotten.) The film came in various sizes to fit different cameras (think SD or compact flash cards). Sizes ranged from 8mm to 16mm to 35mm and upwards. While the upper ranges belonged to the pros (and were prohibitively expensive), the smallest sizes (8mm and super-8 primarily) were affordable enough for home movie-makers.
Unlike today’s memory cards which just sit there and absorb data, film was mechanically pushed and pulled through the camera. On a still camera it was frame by frame…one shot per frame, then push the crank to advance. In “movie” or “film” cameras it clattered through at 24 frames per second. To make things even more fun, if you had a camera that could shoot audio (aka single system sound), then the audio was recorded 28 frames BEFORE the visuals.
How do I know all this? Years of shooting news with a single system sound 16mm camera. Years of threading said film into said camera. Years of editing A, B, C roll (and beyond!).
So what is this vision from the past that is sparking this posting?
Why the Digital Bolex of course.
In days of yore Bolex made some pretty nifty gear…small handheld numbers with a handle on the bottom for ease of use. And the new DB (Digital Bolex) has the retro look of its grandpappy. But with new guts and interchangeable lenses from what I can see.
So no more threading film…no more messy chemicals…just pop in the CF card and you’re out shooting in the style of yesteryear. It even has a 16mm mode (I gotta get me one of those!).
…and its deep rooted trust of technology.
I’m an old geezeress. Got my toehold in news in the waning days of film, shifted to 3/4 tape and took off running and never looked back.
One thing that was embedded in my nerve system was to always use manual controls…never trust the machine. This was especially important in the early days of tape. Even with manual control of audio the gain control on those rinky dink cameras and record decks would flatten out loud sounds. So say you were taping a gun battle or explosion…all you’d get would be a Whoosh! Capped off the high points.
Same thing with auto focus and iris. Trust the machine and your aperture would open and close with each passing white t-shirt and your focus would track whatever hit its sweet spot. Kind of like being on a trip to hallucinationland…your camera on auto was like a happy hippie on hemp.
And white balance…in the early days there was a single setting on the camera. Auto White. Now that was a mite confusing because the Auto White actually required you to push a button to set the white balance. Skip the Auto White and your video would go green or blue.
Years later some smart geek added in what is now called Auto White…where the camera does all the work. Most of the time acceptably.
So what’s the deal? Well today I had a facebook posting interchange with a former student about LED lights (and their lack for full spectrum color) and the need to use warm cards to white balance.
His response…white balance today is good enough you don’t need to manually balance.
This young man is part of today’s video revolution where good enough is good and you trust your camera to give you that. If the camera doesn’t get it right on, save it in post.
I suppose I should take hope in his raw talent…but if he aspires to become more than a wedding videographer he is going to get that hard slap of reality when he attempts to transition to the very real and professional world of cinematography and movie making. I’m not pushing it, but am gently (and not so gently) nudging and giving advice.
Yeah…just call me a geezer and leave me to wander back into my own world of how to do it the right way. I’ve had this conversation before with others and “good enough” ain’t good enough for me.
It is probably about time to update this. Not to buy a camera, mind you, but to revisit a topic that must continually be updated, thanks to techno-changes, which NEVER seem to slow down. A good and a bad thing. Good cause those little babycams seem to get better and better. Bad cause…well, who really wants to know the camera they got just last week or last year is already out of date?
A quick review of prior posts on this topic will give you an idea of what has changed and what hasn’t.
First, the ground rules. Our focus is affordable (now there’s a topic to debate) cameras for Videojournalists. Run and gun style…this means zoom lens, professional manual controls and audio inputs, although I may dip down to prosumer for the latter (will explain that as I go along). This is for camera only…you’ll need to review prior posts (Oh look! There’s one right down there!) for supplemental gear such as mike, lights, tripods.
The camera is the mainstay of a VJ’s bag of tricks. It has to be durable, easy to use (if YOU supply the knowledge, skills, and talent), and not over-the-top expensive. For the sake or fairness, this time I’ll take a look at several levels of cameras: under $1K, under $2K, and under $5K. (FYI: the “K” stands for thousand, not kazillion.)
Now I’m not advocating you buy from any particular store…I try my best to buy local when I can…but some of my needs are more specialized than local can handle so I hop online…and I’ve found that certain sites are not only safe and reliable, but also have really snazzy search functions when you aren’t quite certain what you want. Top of the list here (and, again, you choose your site…don’t follow my lead blindly) is B & H Photography.
I’ll be explaining how to conduct a search using this site (official disclaimer: nothing exchanges hands between us except my cold hard cash with no discounts for whatever it is I want…just like you and everyone else) so you can pick it up to search for whatever it is you want.
So…click on “Video Professional.” That will get you out of the confusing realm of consumer cameras and into cameras with a bit of heft and functions. Next, click on “Camcorders.” On this date there are 103 choices…way too many to inspect closely.
So next we will begin selecting features and at the same time, cutting back on the number of cameras to check out. Um…and since I tend to be VERY budget conscious, I’m gonna change the “Sort By” function from “Best Sellers” to “Price: Low to High.” Although popularity is often an indicator of a good value with all the features, I’m not one to be lead by the herd…and herd thinking isn’t always thinking.
The 103 choices range from a little Sony number for around $1,000 (with no lens mind you) to $80,000 plus for another Sony camera – again, with no lens. Yep…for the price of a home in your average little Mid-Western town you can own a camera body.
So let the sorting begin! I never begin by selecting a brand…frankly the six companies listed are all reputable and make solid equipment. I’m going to skip “Camera Configuration” because I can predict that the broadcast cameras are going to be too pricy…and they are. Although many (many many) TV stations are purchasing babycams and low-end broadcast cameras, this category runs the gamut from $45,000 to that top-end Sony at $80,000.
My first sort will be for resolution, and I’m choosing HD. Our list is down to 90 choices.
The next choice will be for Media Format – a can of worms if ever there was one. This gets personal, but here’s how I choose. I will not choose a tape camera…tape is getting harder to find off the shelf and is a fading technology (my opinion). Also skip Internal Memory…again a personal choice cause I like to trade out memory cards to hand off to others or to download while I continue shooting. The six remaining choices are all variations on memory cards. Being the practical tightwad that I am, I would go with SDHC…because the cards are commonly available if you need them and affordable to boot.
If you’ve got the cash, check out the other cards. SxS, P2, and memory sticks are common choices, although you’d better have a supply on hand. Again, you can’t just run over to Walgreens and pick them up.
There are 42 camcorders that use SDHC cards. Price points from that no-lens low-end Sony at around $1,000 to upper end to a Panasonic (no lens) model at $15,000.
Let’s keep looking.
We’ll look at the upper end choices first – between $3,000 and $5,000. (Go to Price and type in the range of prices you are looking for.) There are 17 in this category.
Here’s where you have to know your stuff to winnow the list down further. So, from the top.
If you’re interested in free shipping, rebates, or want to buy immediately (in stock) click those. Since I’m just looking for features, I won’t click those right now.
We’ll skip brand again, although you’ll notice we are down to the three: JVC, Panasonic, Sony.
NTSC or NTSC/Pal? If you are only shooting in the US of A, doesn’t matter…the format here is NTSC. If you are going overseas to countries that use PAL, you may want to click that box.
Next choice is CCD vs. CMOS. Another can of worms..each chip has it’s merits and issues, so I’m not going to choose either for you. (Will tell you that the single CCD camera is the one I purchased myself a few years back though.)
There’s a slew of features to choose from, but at this price range the only thing I’m really interested in is the audio input – XLRs. That gets us down to 15 cameras.
Digital Interface – this category pretty much deals with cameras used in-house and plugged into studio and live setups. Since we’re out in the field on our own for now we’ll skip that.
For Codec I’m choosing mpeg-4. Again, latest codec/most commonly used.
And we’re down from 103 to 13 cameras. A few final eliminations. I will not choose a 3D camera so cross that off the list. Also, since we’re on a budget, the camera must come with a lens. Oh – and skip the “Field Acquisition Backpack.” Not going there.
So we are down to 9 choices…and all of them are possibilities. Here’s where I place the burden back on YOU. Choose a camera. Any camera. For convenience I’ll walk you thru the first one on the list. The Sony HXR NX70U at $2,800. Choose it.
Go ahead and read the overview…but your real meat is on the Specs sheet. There you’ll see that it has a single half inch CMOS chip, shoots to both memory sticks and SDHC (and more). Personal concern: filter size is only 37mm and that tells me this is a small camera and I might not want it.
Check out “What’s In The Box” to make sure your get a complete package – camera, lens, battery and charger as well as necessary cables.
Now cruise through the Reviews to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises. And read those with the proverbial grain of salt. Generally the pros reviewers will be more on point than the casual users. If you read all of the reviews you can at least discern a pattern of pros and cons.
Your homework? Check out each camera. I have some personal preferences…generally like three chip cameras for higher quality. I look at the location of the manual controls for focus (on the ring), audio (where I can access them quickly), iris (again…easily accessed and used) and white balance (rarely if ever use auto WB). Built-in neutral density filters help you hop from dark to extremely bright scenes without having to screw on an external filter. A switch to increase gain lets you shoot in lower light situations.
Now, very quickly, I’ll check out the under $2,000 cameras and move on to under $1,000.
The former – just hop down to price and change the numbers to $1,000 to $2,000. Oh – and unclick XLR audio. In this price range you may be looking at prosumer mini-jack audio. There are eight contenders that fit my specs in this price range (after eliminating those w/no lens and other factors). Again, check them out individually and read the reviews.
Now for the final category – under $1,000. For these we’ll have to enter the wide open consumer Camcorders area. Once you’re in, choose Camcorders again and right away enter a price range of 0 to 1,000. The original 195 choices will drop to – 185??? Way too many, so let’s start narrowing again.
Let’s choose a resolution of HD-1080 and get our choices down to 133. Under features choose Mike Input. Down to 30 cameras. Going to eliminate under Factors the Sports type by choosing Palm and Pocket and then for Media SDXC/SDHC/SD cards. Down to 22 choices with prices ranging from one Toshiba on sale for $149 to an upper end Sony at $898.
Again read the reviews and specs to really get a handle on features and performance.
One feature I notice I cruised through above is single vs. three chip cameras. The latter are pretty much standard in the professional field…and the bigger the chips, the better for higher resolution and low light ability. I will say that a single 1/2 chip can put out and amazing picture…but multiply that by three and you are in Nirvana!
Here’s a Happy New Year to all of you out there and wishing you the best in finding the camera of your dreams. On a budget or otherwise. Questions? Fire them off.
Technology makes everything obsolete, sometimes within days or even hours of a purchase. This holds true with pretty much everything related to videojournalism. Except.
The support gear.
What is support gear? Well it includes tripods, lights, mikes (and cables).
Like others, I tend to focus at times too much on the camera, the image, the quality of what I’m shooting when equal play should be given to what holds the camera, lights the image, and captures the sound.
So if you’re looking to get into the field of videojournalism (or related fields) make sure you include those items that make you a true pro and will most likely outlast your camera (or your next few cameras).
I have an Electrovoice 635 stick mike I got back in 2002. If it runs true to its siblings used in news, it may well last forty or fifty years. A solid hunk of metal…no batteries required. Wired of course…and I have several XLR cables to connect it to whatever camera I’m using.
For reaching further there’s the Sennheiser ME66 shotgun mike. Needs a battery or is phantom powered through the camera and can really reach out and grab sound.
And finally the Lectosonics wireless system…which can be used with the lav mike (clipped on to subject) or allows me to hook up the 635 or ME66 so they can go wireless.
You notice I have three different mikes. Stick mike/635 for general use and run and gun. Shotgun for sitdown or on the run interviews or nats. Lav mike when I want my gear to disappear and not be seen but still give me the freedom to move around.
Tripods – right up there with microphones as a necessity. A tripod is a platform to give your camera stability and allow the audience to see your images without shaking or the jitters. A good tripod may set you back anywhere from $400 to thousands, but again, will outlast your camera(s).
What to look for? Well the less you pay, the less you get. The minimum should be a half ball or full ball fluid head. That gives you good movement and lets you level the head w/out having to constantly adjust the legs. Worth every cent.
I have four full size tripods and a few little ones. My mainstay is a Libec DV22/half ball head. Then the old heavy duty Bogen, which is now used with my jib. A couple of lightweights – cheap little Slick and a no-name really lightweight set of sticks.
The toy tripods are a Pentax tabletop and the Press Grip. The latter lets me hang a camera or microphone pretty much anywhere.
And finally – lights.
The first light you should buy as a VJ is probably a good on-camera light. Tungsten as been the mainstay in the category, although LEDs are moving in pretty quickly and are recommended for their long battery life, weight, and for cool running. But be aware that LEDs are NOT full spectrum. For news they are acceptable, but your video may lack some color.
In the light category and right up there w/on-camera light is a good reflector. Something to bounce light around. Most of my time in news I got by with a little 20-incher, although now I have two 30 inch reflectors. One white to use for bounce and diffusion and the other gold on one side and silver on the other.
And finally – the stand lights or a light kit. Again, you’ll need to make some choices…this time tungsten, LED or fluorescent. Each has its merits and problems, ranging from throw to cost to color spectrum. Tungsten has been around the longest and has the most throw/is brightest. And costs less (most of the time). Fluorescents and LEDs are both pricy, but run cooler…and throw out less light.
And that is about it. Figure on spending at least a thousand bucks to get set up initially. Then keep an eye on what’s out there and add to your kit as you can afford it/or jobs require it. And remember – this is money well spent…on equipment that will follow you for years to come.
UPDATE on 11.16.12
The posting below has some misconstrued facts. The fact that the WB went out at the same time I got a new polarizing filter is coincidence. It turns out that there is an internal issue in the camera. Further testing w/o the filter proved that, along with some extensive discussions with Panasonic’s help desk.
Polarizing filter, that is. I don’t use filters much…don’t like much to come between me and the reality of the world. I have always had a clear or skylight filter on my lens for protection though. Less expensive to replace a scratched filter than an entire lens (or camera, since those little prosumer camcorders are permanently affixed to the lens).
But recently I got a polarizing filter…neat little piece of glass that will help cut down on unwanted reflections while increasing saturation of colors. And it does a great job at both.
Actually it is a circular polarizing filter. The circular means there are two elements in the filter…one to polarize light and the other to make corrections so that your camera’s automatic iris reads light properly. Here’s a link to a pretty good explanation of how they work: http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Polarizer
But the issue that caught me off guard (which I haven’t been able to find an online explanation for yet) is loss of the ability to manually white balance. Talk about frustrating. Set the camera to manual…blue. Hit the white balance button. Still blue. Switched from manual to auto – wow, good color. Switched back to manual. Blue. Turned camera off and on again. Blue.
Looks like I have my work cut out for me over the weekend. Or, as I used to tell my students, working with digital video is a lifelong exploration of fixing problems.
…between my mainstay Panasonic AG-HMC150, Swann HD Freestyle (think Go Pro), and Kodak Playtouch (your basic Flip style camera). Initially the latter two look pretty good, especially with the water splash. However, if you take the time to check, the details in dark areas and highlights on the fruit are noticeably better on the Panasonic.
Shot in bright sunlight…all cameras on automatic.
Yeah…I’ve been wanting a Go Pro for some time now but can’t justify the $300+ it’s gonna cost. But last year I got Daughter #2 something called a Swann. Normally around $200 but every now and then you can find it on extreme sale. So…check it out. Note that I am not recommending it and do not claim it is as good as the Go Pros…but in eyeballing it, it sure meets my basic needs. Reminder: before any purchase, check the specs like a pro would. Never ever buy something unless you know exactly what you are getting.
Ummm…now that I think about it, should give you a heads up. Sale is $140 but for three days only. Starting…a couple of hours ago.
…several days later (10.26.12)…the beast is here and below is the very first clip I shot.
A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.
One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.
Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.
And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.
Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.
And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.
But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a threat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.
Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.
But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.
Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.
No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.
And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.
I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.
Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?
Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.
Update – forgot that an earlier posting has a number of examples of mobile storytelling (using a Kodak Playtouch). Check it out.