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Love this crawling quote on my husband’s computer: “It’s not that we say dragons are real…but we say they can be beaten…”
Dragons being, of course, totally (ahem) imaginary creatures that lurk in fairy tales and in the backs of our minds.
Well in the back of my mind lately there’s been a desire to cut out the seemingly endless hours I spend transcribing interviews. I’d looked into voice recognition software in the past and had an inkling there were some possibilities out there. What did me in was a marathon week of listening to and transcribing a panel discussion of high school debaters and interviews with five coaches. Oh – and presentations by the students too.
Word. For. Word.
Regular folks like to talk. Speech and debate folks take it seriously and my fingers and brain were seriously addled by the time I was through. Limpid fingers…mush for brains.
So I finally began my search in earnest and dragons kept resurfacing as a solution.
Dragons Naturally Speaking. Managed to finagle some coupons and points and got it for nearly half off and began my adventure last night. And was frankly pretty impressed. The program is set up for one voice and you have to go through a learning curve with the software. So I spent about ten minutes setting up my profile, which included reading sentences and learning how to insert capital letters and punctuation, how to start a new line and more and then I transcribed two short interviews in slightly more time than it took to view them. Wow.
The method to get this done could be considered multi-tasking to the extreme. Dragon was open to transcribe into MS Word. I had a screen with an interview playing back. I just had to make sure that Word was the active screen and I would repeat word for word whatever the interview subject was saying. Even transcribed some nats.
The only thing better of course would be to plug-in all audio directly for transcription…but this sure beats the old way of listen and type quickly and then back up and start listening and typing again. For my purposes I don’t need impeccable accuracy…so rough drafts are workable for scripting purposes.
And now I’m ready for that next big project – a series of interviews and nats for DSES…and trust me, it is gonna go together oh so much faster than anticipated.
…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.
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.
Every now and then something comes along and the reaction is, “COOL! Why didn’t I think of that?” (or…”I thought of that years ago and it’s FINALLY come out.)
Back in the early 2000s JVC had something called the GY-DV300u aka the Streamcorder. That little gem was way ahead of its time. I grabbed one because after some pretty heavy duty research I found it had all the gizmos I wanted and needed to have a life after a multi-decade career as a broadcast news cameraman. But it had that little extra “umph” in the background that intrigued me – the ability to stream live to the web. And for some reason it never really took off. And the camera and it’s revolutionary potential kind of faded away…
Until NAB this year when the 300u’s great granddaughter returned. And with a vengeance.
Meet the JVC ProHD Mobile News Camera! To me it’s an old friend gussied up and modernized. But it is a game changer and this time the time is ripe for it to reach the heights it missed last time around.
What’s new? Okay, so I admit I’m addicted to glass. A 23x zoom. Something that can reach out and pull you (and your audience) in close to situations you don’t even WANT to get close to. Most prosumer cameras in this price range only have a 10x or 14x zoom, leaving you miles short of the shot you really want.
Dual slot recording…the less expensive version of this camera, the JVC GY-HM600 ProHD Camera has two slots for continuous recording too, but lacks the ability to record in HD in one slot and SD in the other. That ability allows you to shoot HD for the main event but SD to stream back quickly to the station for on-air. Wow.
I don’t even need to get into real manual controls, XLR inputs, three chips (1/3 CMOS)…the usual suspects in a pro’s array of necessary tools.
What happened in the past ten years that makes this new again?
Well, this time news is READY for a camera like this. In 2002 (when I got my JVC 300u) going live on the web was something entertaining…fun. But nobody in real news considered it seriously. After all, it wasn’t really professional – was it? Tiny little camera, poor quality…and there were live trucks and microwave trucks to handle important stories.
Times change…and now cell phones and Skype can put out decent enough (okay, so even I debate that one) images for news. Plus, reality has set in – financial reality. With the competition out there, lean and fast may make the difference between survival and death to cost conscious news organizations.
And while I absolutely love those good ole days, I’m a realist. What I see is a camera that may mean survival.
We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.
Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.
It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.
Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to attach the reciever. Out of desperation I would stick it in the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.
Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.
I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hole into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).
Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.
What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.com. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.
Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.
So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.
…for this excellent advice on how to choose a (not quite broadcast) professional video camera. Begins with good glass (and why), chips, manual controls and more. And the best part? The information holds value through (most) changes in technology that I’ve seen over the past (OMG) forty years.
Addendum: VM is on a roll today. Or maybe they’re just publishing stuff I find useful. Here’s article #2 on copyrighting and Creative Commons. Good stuff to understand.
…yeah, this topic is one that NEVER dies and seems to need tweaking every few years. So I did the original in 2007, with an update in 2009 and a final look when I was hunting for a camera for myself last year.
A lot changed between the first and last postings…but even more has remained constant. We’ve moved from tape-based to card-based shooting. Quality has skyrocketed from SD to HD. The task of matching camera with nonlinear editing program and computer has become a bit more muddied. But you still have to have knowledge of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed, ISO. You still should have mike inputs. You will forever have to know the limitations of your camera and your own skill and ability to use said camera.
And that said, let’s move on and see what’s out there for today’s VJs.
I’m taking a slightly different approach this time…realizing that not everyone has the big bucks for a higher end camera or the technical know-how for more than a point and shoot. (All this part of the content of The Basics of Videojournalism.)
So let’s divide cameras into a couple of levels of use.
1) Point and shoot Flip type cameras. No real zoom, no mike input, pretty much automatic. (But don’t worry…you can still turn a mean story if you know what you’re doing.)
2) Consumer camcorders. A zoom, probably no mike input, minimal or difficult to use manual controls.
3) Low end prosumer camcorders…these will have a decent zoom a mini-jack mike input and manual controls (most likely menu-driven).
4) Prosumer camcorders – zoom, XLR mike inputs OR mini-jack inputs, easily accessible manual controls
5) Professional camcorders – if you’re using one of these, you’re either working in the media or a production house and by gosh I’m betting you have a pretty good handle on what gear is all about (if not…wait for the book to come out bucko).
6) DSLR. Not a tool I’d put in a VJ kit, but preferred by some for ability to create shallow depth of field. Mini-jack mike input, ability to change out lenses, manual controls. Ergodynamicaly difficult to handle in gun-and-run situations.
You may have noticed a common thread above…zoom, mike input, manual controls. Professionals like to be on control. They know the relationship of shutter speed to iris to everything else. That’s not to say the automatic switch isn’t thrown every now and then…but infrequently.
So…to go over these terms. A good zoom will allow you to frame up a shot in multiple ways. Wide, medium, close-up. Oh – and it can also be used (again, infrequently) as a zoom…a way to get closer to/further away from something.
Mike input – your on-camera microphone is generally omnidirectional – it picks up sound from everywhere, with the closest noise getting priority. Not recommended for interviews…but don’t worry, there ARE ways around that. If your camera has a way to plug in an external mike, you can “stick it to” your interview subject and get clear audio.
Manual controls. These include the big four. Focus, aperture, shutter speed, white balance. The latter is less of a problem with today’s cameras, although there are times manual white balance will make a difference.
To understand the need for manual white balance, you need to know that light comes in many colors…your eyeballs and brain work together to make all light equal, but in reality daylight has a blue cast to it, tungsten/indoor lights stray to the orangish hues, and at times fluorescents can confuse the heck out of you, being balanced for daylight or tungsten. Let’s not even get INTO arc lights. If you use automatic white balance, 95% of the time your color will look good. It’s only when you encounter mixed light scenarios you may want to go manual. Unless you’re a pro – then you want to manually white balance constantly so that your video matches clip t clip.
Focus and aperture face the same problem, in different ways. When you shoot in automatic mode, anything that appears in front of the lens can suddenly cause a focus or aperture shift, resulting in lost of focus on your subject and a sudden lightening or darkening of your image.
Let’s tackle aperture first. Aperture, or iris, is how the camera controls how much light gets through the lens to the recording media. A small aperture lets in a small amount of light…a large aperture opens up wide to let in a lot of light. Delving deeper into the subject, light going through a small aperture is forced into focus, creating deep depth of field. Everything from front to back in focus. The magical shallow focus is created by a wide open aperture. (Of course there’s more to it than that…chip size is a big part of this, but I’m not going there for now.)
Shutter speed can be used on conjunction with iris to control depth of field and also to allow you to shoot in brighter or darker venues and more.
So, let’s hop on over to my favorite online store and do some comparisons. For now let’s pretend we have a budget of $1,000. We need a camera, media, tripod, and mike. The basic tools of a videojournalist.
Let’s toss $150 towards the tripod and oh, the same for a mike. Shipping will probably run around $30 or so, leaving us with around $670 for the camera…somewhere in there we’re gonna hafta take care of taxes too, but I’ll let you worry about that one.
Transparency first. While I shop at B&H (and locally whenever I can), in no way do I get anything out of referrals to their site. Go ahead – just ask them. I’ve just found their site easy to use when trying to narrow my search down.
So click on that cute little “Camcorders” icon, and let’s get going. Your three choices now are “Camcorders”, “Professional Video”, and “PAL camcorders.” Unless you plan to work outside the US, avoid PAL. Unless you have more than $2,000 (or much more) to spend, avoid Professional. Click on “Camcorders.” You now have more than 200 cameras to choose from.
In the left side column, scroll down to price and at the bottom of that category, type in the range of prices you can afford. (I’m putting in $400 to $650.) Wow – down to 22 cams to choose from.
I’m kinda an advocate of tapeless cameras, so I’m clicking SDXC/SDHC/SD…and we’re down to 19 choices. Why this format of media? It is easily available and not too expensive.
If you take a look at the brands available, the big four remain: Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Sony. All reputable companies, although that’s not to say you can’t do well with a Samsung or Kodak or some other brand.
I know I want a mike input for plugging the new mike in I plan to purchase, so I’m clicking that in the “Features” category and am down to 14 cameras. Much easier to make my selection with 14 than 200+.
Being a bargain hunter, I go up to the top and arrange the choices by price, from lowest to priciest, with the low end a Canon at $450 and the high end a Sony at $650.
This is where you actually have to go look at each camera…and do me a favor. Don’t just read the Overview…read the specs AND (if appropriate) the reviews. The specs will give you details about chip size (the bigger the better and three is better than one) and inputs and technical details. The reviews will let you know how folks who’ve used the gear hands-on feel about it.
Don’t assume the most expensive is best or the lowest price will have what you want or need. Unless you are purchasing a computer and nonlinear editing software to go with your camera, make sure what you purchase works with what you already have. Some of video formats will not play well with older computers or software. Some older systems may work better with mini-dv tape than cards.
Um…and almost forgot. We’re gonna hafta cut another $100 off our camera cost, getting it down to less than $550. Why? We need media, something to record onto AND maybe an extra battery to ensure we have lots of power to keep shooting (sorry bout that). We’re at 9 choices, which will make your search easier. (If you’re gong with mini-dv tape, make sure your kit includes a firewire cable to capture to computer.)
Final note – I am NOT recommending any of the cameras remaining – I would guess they may all be useable for a beginning VJ. If your budget is higher or lower, you can use the same process to narrow the search down enough to make an educated choice. This column is not about me telling you what to buy, but more about you learning what features you need to have to do the best job possible in telling visual stories.
Questions are welcome…so shoot away!
PS – if you are stuck on DSLRs, begin your search on the “Photography” icon.
PPS – used is good if you are a careful shopper. eBay works, but beware of scams, stolen items, and gear that may not work as advertised. Ditto craigslist. Ask questions…and return items promptly if not as advertised. I’ve had one bad experience in that area even after asking questions…but an honest seller repented and returned my money when I returned the camera (which did NOT record or play back).
…okay, time for some overinflated self-promoting grandizing.
A bud of mine – Larry Nance (no not THAT one, THIS one) and I have been working on and off for the past five or more years on a textbook on videojournalism. We kind of slowed down and resumed normal life for a while, but then decided this year to make the push and get it done.
Problem is technology has changed so much we’ve pretty much had to do a major re-write. So we’re each writing a chapter or so a week and meeting weekly to discuss what to do next.
Larry – he’s the artist, video production guy, and businessman. Me? I’m the newsie.
But between us we harbor a wealth of information and tips.
The book is becoming a reality – I almost want to say, “Slowly.” But that aint’ the truth. It is moving along at a respectable pace and (fingers crossed and don’t hold us to this deadline) may be done with the writing portion by the end of May.
What’s up next? Planning and shooting the visuals (stills) and accompanying video (examples and raw footage to practice editing). That will add on another month…and then.
….publish…???…yeah, right. PUBLISH!!!
If you want to have input, go to The Basics of Videojournalism and check out the Knowledge Base. Let us know if there’s anything we should add or delete or change. Time’s a-wastin and once this puppy is done…well I’d like to think it is done…but reality tells me we need to stay on top of it and make sure it stays CURRENT.
…to get back to blogging.
Did a (fairly basic) lighting workshop yesterday for Voices of the Earth, a Bay area non-profit. They’re a bit out of the ordinary…a small group of passionate folks who have taught themselves an awful lot about video production and who want to move on to what they call “the next level.” For them, this meant learning how to use light properly, plus a bit about audio and sundry other items.
I say they are out of the ordinary because they learned and gave themselves feedback properly…before we even met up they knew to use a tripod, frame properly, and (wow!!!) get good solid audio with shotgun and clip-on mikes. Made my job awfully easy.
The end result is that their inspiration has now re-inspired me to write the occasional blog posting. So this will become an on-again/off-again thought-of-the-moment series of postings with tips. Until I’m enticed away to the next bright and shiny vision.
Today’s tip is tripods.
I noticed that both of VotE’s shooters had tripods – a good thing. What they need to do now is move up to video tripods that can handle the weight of their gear and allow them to do smooth camera movements. “V” was using a Canon Vixia and his tripod was okay for the weight of the camera…but for shooting video it was too light and shaky. “J’s” tripod was definitely way too light to hold her Panasonic three-chipper. Great little camera, but we had one near-disaster when it tipped forward due to weight.
Lesson #1 – there are two main parts to all tripods. The legs/sticks and the head. The latter would be the part you attach your camera to. Most low end tripods come with the two attached as one unit. As you move up the food chain you can purchase the legs and head separately, allowing you to choose specific qualities you want. (see this old posting for more details)
Lesson #2 – make sure your camera is rated for what you plan to load on it. And that would be more than just the camera. If you ever plan to add an on-camera light, shotgun mike or other accessories, the tripod has to bear that weight too.
Lesson #3 – there IS a difference between still and video tripods. A still tripod is mean to hold the camera steady while you take ONE shot or a series of shots. It is a platform to hold your gear and let you keep your hands free.
A video camera should have a fluid head…meaning you should be able to pan side to side and up and down evenly without any jerkiness. It should be heavy/solid enough so it doesn’t shake when someone walks by or if you’re out in the weather. AND if you can spring for the money, a ball head would be nice…allows you to level your camera without having to fiddle with the legs.
Thanks again VotE.