Gear-Situation Guide

We’ve a lot of gear and it can be really confusing so we’ve included this guide to help you figure out  what you need.

First, you need to figure out what your situation is. Whether you’re shooting a documentary, a lecture, music video, memorial video, short film, you’re going to be on locations, working with the existing light, trying to capture audio and get usable footage. I’ve listed the simplest option in most cases and then added a few things to improve the results. For example, 90% of the time, the most basic setup is a camera and the built-in recorder. But, unless you get very lucky or really know what you’re doing, you will want to use a good camera, a good external mic and some lights/bounces.

Camera

You need to decide which camera to use. 90% of situations, you’re best off using the DVX100. It’s decent in low light, renders colours well and general takes good footage. The HMC40 HD camera is a bit simpler (which can be a good thing for you) and requires a lot of light to take good footage so doesn’t work well in low light or shooting concerts. The free handicams are just that–consumer-grade handicams and will not produce nearly as pretty pictures as the first two.

Then you’ve to decide whether you’re going to shoot handheld. If you shoot handheld, you don’t need anything, but if you decide you want support, you need to choose a tripod (for rock solid shots with smooth pans and tilts) or the monopod (easy to move with and set down to get some stability, looks like a pogo stick).

To learn more, take one of the workshops.

Lights

The most basic level of lighting is simply to use available light. This can be ok but can produce poor quality pictures. For example, fluorescent lighting can make everything look “green” and cause a “top-lighting” effect which hides people’s eyes and can make them look sinister. Direct sunlight is harsh and can wash people out. A cloudy day can be acceptable, though.

The next level is to use available light but shape and bounce it using reflectors, diffusion and flags. On a sunny day for example, the harsh lighting can wash people out, but using a silk or diffusion between the sun and the subject, and then setting up a nice warm, gold reflector on the other side can achieve a much nicer effect. The RoadRags kit is a great, portable kit for this level of setup.

The next level is to add artificial lights. You can use it to augment existing light or remove all available light by blocking windows and turning off lights, or the mix the two. For a lot of situations, a good option is to grab the Kinoflo Divas. They’re a nice, soft light that can easily mix with both indoor and outdoor and are great for interviews. About 60% of the time, unless you know specifically what you want, these are good enough for filling a small space with soft, even lighting. If in doubt, grab one or both of these.

You need to be careful when mixing natural light and artificial light because sunlight looks more blue and indoor light looks more orange. We don’t normally see this cause our brain compensates, but cameras don’t, so you need to white balance them to one or the other. But if you mix different colour temperature lights, the indoor light may look normal but the sunlight may look very blue. There’s a few ways to fix this:

  1. Block out all natural light using flags or cardboard, or use no artificial light and just use bounces.
  2. Match the outdoor light to the indoor light. This is usually by putting a Colour Temperature Orange (CTO) gel over a window. We have these gels, just ask for them. I generally avoid this unless it’s a single small window.
  3. Match the indoor light to the outdoor light. You can do this by adding Colour Temperature Blue (CTB) gels to your lights by clipping them to the barndoors with clothespins. The Kinoflo Diva lights are unique because they have different colour temperature lamps for outdoor light or indoor light. Ask us how to change lamps.

For more information, take a workshop on lighting. We have industry professionals teaching them.

Audio

However you choose to record audio, make sure you use the included headphones to listen to what you’re getting. We’ve had members lose whole days of shooting cause no one was monitoring sound!

The most basic form of audio capture is simply to using the built-in mic of the camera. Generally this is very noisy and people are quicker to forgive bad video than bad audio.

A slightly better option is to attach a better quality mic to your camera. The HMC40 comes with a small shotgun mic you can use. This is often much better than simply using the built-in mic, but can still pick up a lot of noise and irrelevant sound. Mics don’t “zoom” so an ok mic near the subject is much better than a great mic far away from the subject.

A much better option is to rent one of our lapel mics or shotgun mics and set them up very close the subject, or, in the case of the lapel mics, clip them to the subject. You can run these directly into the camera using XLR cables, or into an external audio recorder such as the Zoom H4N.

A final, advanced note for capturing audio: if you’re recording something that already is using mics for speakers, see if you can tap into their mixer or PA system and record their feed directly into the camera or Zoom H4N. You need to figure out if this is possible way ahead of time. don’t expect you can do this on the spot. Figure out what cables you will need. This’ll give you much clearer sound than trying to record what’s coming out of the speakers, such as in the case of a concert. It’s also easier than micing the subject again with another your mic which may cause feedback or other issues.

A few example setups

Filming an interview in an office for a documentary during a sunny day. Small office but has a window that lights sunlight in. A simple setup: Panasonic DVX100, wired or wireless lapel mic. Turn off the office’s lights. A bounce board setup to bounce the window’s light onto the side of the face that’s away from the window. May replace bounce board with a Kinoflo (with blue labeled daylight bulbs) turned down enough to add a slight contrast between the two sides of the face.

Filming a lecture: big auditorium, florescent lights, no windows. Have to communicate with the staff setting it up. Simple setup: DVX or HD camera, mic the speaker or record from the room’s audio feed. Would add a reflector, kinoflo and/or small light to fill in the eyes to remove top lighting.

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