October 4, 2016 at 8:30PM

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Photographer expanding to video - Lots of kit questions!

Hello all

I'm a photographer but hoping to expand into some video projects such as stock footage, and eventually perhaps some drama. I would like to expand my kit to cover some video bases.
I've been doing some research but haven't yet nailed down my next purchases. Any advice would be grately appreciated!
I've decided a 4k camera can wait until I have other bases better covered.

Here's what I have: Nikon d750, prime lenses (28/45/85/105), ND filters, light stands, umbrellas, softboxes, iMac, Studio Speakers, Zoom H1.

Here's what I've ordered so far: Cheapish Q555 tripod, Manfrotto 502 "fluid" head, Filmcity HS-2 follow-focus.

I've been looking at rails for the follow focus but my knowledge in that area is very limited. Also no idea how they would play with the tripod, and potentially, a shoulder rig. Any tips on this would be especially helpful. Could you shoot a drama short with only a tripod, or do you feel a shoulder rig or steadicam is essential?

Also thinking about a whip for the follow focus, and an LCD viewfinder/loupe for the camera.

Regarding audio, I love the sound quality from the Zoom, but I imagine a lav mic and shotgun mic would be very useful additions for distant shots and outdoors, respectively. I'm considering a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones, though I imagine there are cheaper options for monitoring audio in the field.

I have lens hoods and ND filters, so I really don't feel like a matte box is urgent, but please correct me if I'm wrong there!

For lights, I've been looking at the Manfrotto Spectra stuff. Seems very affordable for something with >90 CRI.

Also, is it insanity to attempt to use the cameras LCD for focussing? - is a bigger monitor screen essential?

Sorry, I know there are so many questions there. Again, thanks for any comments at all.

10 Comments

The biggest surprise you are going to find when transitioning from photo to video is that photo is about the decisive moment and video is about dancing with the subject whenever possible, at least according to the current aesthetics. The late 1980s went through that terrible shaky-cam phase, but now everything's on a gimbal and is smooth as silk. Of course there are exceptions where cameras are locked down to tripods, but look at any episodic dramas or TV commercials these days, and you'll see that the camera is almost always moving. Before you invest too much in any one direction, try to see whether you can make yourself happy with tripod-based static video or whether you really prefer motivated video. If the latter, don't buy stuff that assumes everything is going to be locked down!

October 4, 2016 at 9:11PM, Edited October 4, 9:10PM

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Thanks for taking the time to reply Michael. I've been trying to watch films and shows recently with a more analytical eye, and unfortunately, I love everything from static shots to steadicam. Will have to think more on that subject. Might just pick up a cheap shoulder rig to experiment with for the time being.

October 4, 2016 at 9:34PM

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You might want to nail down exactly what you want to shoot before investing in a lot of equipment...

That said, I would invest in a good tripod with a real fluid-head that can properly balance your camera package. I use a Sachtler FSB-6 fluid-head that is able to balance camera packages weighing between 2 - 13 lbs.

When properly balanced you can pan / tilt your camera in any direction and when you let go of the panning handle your camera will stay pointing in the direction where you let go, so you do NOT have to lock anything for your camera to remain absolutely motionless. This means you can track somebody walking into a scene and then slow to a stop, let go of the pan handle and continue shooting the scene, then follow them as they walk out of the scene. This makes for very smooth shots with just about any subject.

If you want a cheaper version of this type of tripod/head combo there is a new "Freddie Wong" branded version of the Sachtler ACE L tripod that sells for $783 US for the fluid-head and tripod. This branded ACE L head has the same counter-balance range as the FSB-6 head : https://goo.gl/yrDNYx

You might think this is expensive for a video tripod, but you will never go back to cheaper video tripods once you've used one that can properly balance your camera package. The difference is night and day.

The other item I would look at is a good video monitor with an IRE wave-form and false-color display. This will guarantee sharp in-focus shots, proper exposure for your shots, and make it a LOT easier to properly frame your shots.

On the higher end of things ( $500+ US ) you can also get a good monitor that is also a video recorder, so you can record high bit-rate ProRes footage from your Nikon camera. ( you should check, but I am pretty sure that the D750 can output a clean HDMI video signal, so you can obtain the highest quality video image from your D750 camera by using an external video recorder )

October 4, 2016 at 9:46PM, Edited October 4, 9:49PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32641

Definitely agree that Sachtler FSB and Ace are the starting point for a tripod/fluid head you won't hate. Also agree that learning and using a waveform monitor is absolutely essential to exposing your way out of the proverbial paper bag.

The recording monitor, however, is either the road to nirvana or the road to perdition. It is the road to nirvana when everything else you are doing is right, and you want to treat yourself to a codec that won't make you cry when you are editing. It is the road to perdition if you don't have your movement and balance strategies figured out, and you find that it makes movement and balance just too damn difficult and you'd be better off buying a camera that has a decent codec built-in rather than one that needs to be bolted on. That's one nice thing about camcorders that were designed from the ground-up to be video recorders: they have the correct tools all built-in, making movement and balance a normal-sized challenge.

October 4, 2016 at 10:07PM

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Well... It's the trade-off between a low cost camera that produces a great image, and a MUCH higher priced camera that has everything built-in right from the start.

I have my mirror-less cameras mounted in very high quality camera cages that let me bolt on just about any accessory I could want, including a bigger/heavier recorder/monitor, which is a pretty good low-cost solution. Sure it's not as nice as having everything built-in to a cine camera, but it's a lot less expensive.

October 5, 2016 at 12:00AM, Edited October 5, 12:00AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32641

Lots of food for thought there gentlemen. Huge appreciation for setting me on the right path.

October 4, 2016 at 10:52PM

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You are welcome! Always remember to upvote helpful answers. It counteracts the small but effective minority of NFS users who seem to consistently downvote even helpful comments.

October 5, 2016 at 6:22AM

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My advice is: be patient with yourself.

If you've been looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer,
don't get seduced into thinking that shooting motion pictures means that
every element has to be moving (camera zooming/panning while subject
moves) in every shot. Play around with duration. Let things unfold. Whether
you're working on narrative pieces or making commercials, the way your
shots unfold over time plays with the viewer's expectations. You aren't just
sculpting light and composing objects in 2D space—you're also composing
and sculpting time. Be patient and allow yourself to play around with time.

I think Guy is right:
"You might want to nail down exactly what you want to shoot before investing in a lot of equipment..."

Making moving pictures is about problem-solving. Sometimes you have the
equipment ahead of time because you know what hurdles you'll need to clear
(this is why storyboarding is essential). But you can't be prepared for every
eventuality, and in fact working with limitations and overcoming unforeseen
obstacles forces you to be creative.

Another interesting but semi-unrelated sidebar is new technology. If you watch
a lot of films by great directors of the past, you'll probably notice a few who
were obsessed with trying to capture shots that today's technology makes
far easier to accomplish. So would those astounding shots still be arresting
if they were made with modern, "easier" techniques? Probably. Because these
shots are not only technically amazing, they serve the story/ideas and immerse
the viewer in the action.

For example extremely wide shots that track smoothly so that the camera "enters"
a space. The extended (visually operatic) opening shot of "Touch of Evil" by Orson
Welles sets the tone for the entire film. It isn't trying to be "subtle". It's trying to
force you to sit back in your seat so that you give yourself over completely to the
experience of the film.

And then there is the opening shot in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca" where the
camera pans up to show Manderley before zooming in and passing through fog
and curtains to enter a room within the building. For the shot they use a miniature
recreation of the building and some camera tricks (passing through a transparency)
so that the miniature shot matches up with a shot of an actual interior shot of the
room. The effect is that the viewer is swept up and "passes through" the curtains to
enter into the story.

Today these kinds of shots would be done with a drone. No "miniature" or 3D
computer replicas of buildings needed. The drone could just swoop in from outside
and "enter" the action. But will the technology that makes this possible make such
shots seem a hackneyed cliché or make them seem more relevant? The "handheld"
look of films from the '60s and '70s was informed by the equipment that made such
shots of close action possible. Overuse makes any technique into a cliché. And then
a creative manipulation of such a cliché turns it back into something inventive again.

All of which highlights what Guy was saying. Try figuring out what you're trying to do
before you invest in expensive equipment. Whether shooting drama or stock footage,
the camerawork should serve what you're trying to convey—it can be subtle and almost
seem transparent (not noticed but only felt by viewer) or prominently part of the tone
and feel of what you're doing.

October 10, 2016 at 2:38PM, Edited October 10, 2:40PM

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Sean Bokenkamp
Animator
144

Hey Declan, there's lots of variables and a lot to talk about. Here's some really quick thoughts...

* Matte box, follow focus: don't need 'em. Honestly, you don't. Save your money. Need a filter? Screw it on the lens instead. Getting unwelcome light flares? Use a lens hood or work something else out.

* Rails: if you're not using matte box, follow focus, don't need rails.

* Monitor: don't need it. Save your money. Work out a workaround. Most cameras have a variety of focus and exposure aids built in. Need an output for director or client? Run an HDMI cable to a computer monitor or a TV set or a laptop. What I would strongly suggest though, if you're going to be pulling focus all day long off the LCD screen, is to get some sort of magnifying loupe, like a Zacuto Z-finder, particularly for anything you plan on shooting outdoors in daylight. Or, if you don't have any money at all, it's going to be a case of throw your jacket over your head to shield the screen from the sun.

* Stablisation: depends what you're shooting. A tripod is a bare minimum, and you've already ordered that, and plenty of films have been shot on a tripod and nothing else. Sooner or later, you're going to hunger for a slider as a next step, so you've got the option of horizontal movement, instead of just panning. And then you'll hunger for a steadicam or similar.

* Shoulder mount: depends on what you're shooting (including the particular scene you're shooting) and your aesthetic. There's a variety of different handheld looks you can get, from literally handheld, to shoulder mount, EasyRig, steadicam, gimbal. I strongly suspect that if you get a monopod, you won't need a shoulder mount at all. But, as you'll know, shoulder mount is pretty standard for documentary and ENG, because it's cheap, it's flexible, it's no fuss. Steadicam is a lot of fuss.

* Lights... How much do you want to spend? :) Ok, a basic light kit that will see you through pretty much all ordinary shooting is three dimmable bicolour LED lights, and that's it. Spend about $1000. Unless you're doing documentary or need a light to be on-camera, you don't even need batteries; run cables instead. Or if you're a cheapskate, get a $100 set, and these will be fine. Don't worry about CRI. Don't worry about hot lights. For any big project, rent.

* Sound... OK, the key thing with sound, in my opinion, is that, for decent audio, the microphone needs to be really close to the sound source -- 30cm or less. It's not about volume; it's about quality. The further from your source, the "dirtier" the sound, the more the mic picks up extraneous sounds and echo. I mean, would you ask a singer in a band to sing into a microphone three metres in front of him? If you look at a band's sound setup, you'll see, in fact, that a lot of the time each instrument is miked up individually; even the drum kit might have a separate microphone on each drum (sometimes two microphones on the same drum!).

So, depending on what you want to shoot, just one Zoom H1 by itself is probably not adequate (even before talking about microphone and sound recorder quality). I mean, in many situations: (a) you won't get be able to get it close enough to the source; (b) you'll be confronted with multiple sound sources to record; (c) it will be undesirable for a Zoom to be in shot in the first place.

Here's some quick suggestions:

-- Headphones. The Sony ones you suggest are awesome. Don't go cheaper: those headphones are already entry level quality for decent field monitoring; and you'll find that there's plenty of situations where they're not good enough -- for instance, where you won't be able to tell whether what you're hearing is coming through the headphones, or is coming from outside the headphones.
-- Drama. Don't buy anything: team up with a sound guy who already has much better kit than you'll ever own. If you do want to buy the kit, go with: at least two lavaliere sets (because the majority of drama is two-person dialogue scenes); at least a two-channel recorder with XLR inputs, ie something like a Zoom H4N, Tascam DR-100; preferably a boom pole and a hypercardioid microphone; some sort of external battery solution for the recorder for phantom power.
-- Documentary. At a minimum, one lavaliere microphone set for clear sound, and one shotgun microphone (for all the times where you're picking up whatever sound you can get and don't have the luxury of micing someone up).
-- Interviews, corporate. At a minimum, two lavaliere microphone sets, one for the interviewer and one for the talent.
-- Conferences, seminars: Depends how many people are speaking at the same time. Might need multiple lavaliere sets. Might need a handheld wireless microphone. Might need a number of different audio cables to plug into the sound system, depending on what their connections are (XLR, RCA, 1/4", 1/8" mono and stereo being the most common).
-- Weddings, events generally: Depends on what type of video you're producing (short form, long form), and what the quality expectations are. I'd suggest: two lavaliere sets (one on the priest, one on the groom), and one shotgun microphone for the parts in between formalities (unless your video just has music over the top for all these bits, which a lot of people do), and some cabling to attach your Zoom to the DJ's mixer during reception. But trust me -- it can get a lot more complicated than this... At the ceremony, how are you planning to record any readings? What about the band or any musicians? What about any extra priests (for Indian weddings, say, or Greek weddings, Armenian weddings)? At the reception, you don't know what sort of sound setup you're going to walk into: maybe there's two or more separate sound systems; maybe there's no rec out for you to plug into at the DJ. So, things can get complex.
-- Stage shows: kind of depends... Lav microphones attached to each performer in an ideal world (along with some method to attach the transmitter pack to them), plus capacity to plug into sound system. But if you can't do this, there are different tricks, like positioning shotgun microphones to point at different parts of the stage, or even hanging lavaliere microphones from the lighting grid.
-- Cricket: get a long shotgun to point at the stumps to pick up the sound :).

December 25, 2016 at 10:36AM, Edited December 25, 10:44AM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
938

Wanted to add one more thought: for drama, you CAN get by with just one shotgun microphone (say, a Rode NTG1) and a boom pole and running the sound into the camera. Don't need a hypercardioid, don't need lavs, don't need external recorder. It's not ideal, and the sound guy won't be able to ride the levels, for example, but it can work. I've worked on a no budget film where that was the setup. I would suggest both lav mics and a shotgun/hypercardioid though, for the sake of backup.

December 25, 2016 at 9:14PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
938

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