Kenny Williams. A quick photo between sets.
I have the belief that it takes more than one camera or one kind of camera to do a creative content business well. I've got a big, bruiser of a camera in the D810 that does well at making high resolution files with great color and dynamic range. The files are extraordinary. And yesterday I saw just how good the video from that camera could be as well as the sound. But I'm finding that the Olympus EM5.2 is just as important to have in the tool kit because it does many things well but isn't as ponderous.
Yesterday afternoon I was shooting a promotional video at Zach Theatre. We were doing interviews with the artistic director and with a talent who will be in one of the future shows. This celebrity hasn't been announced yet to the public so I can't show the video or name them but I can sure talk about how we did the shoot, what the results were and what role both the Nikon D810 and the Olympus OMD EM5.2 played in the production.
I keep trying to up the quality of my productions and each time I go out on location I learn new stuff. Yesterday I was using a cage or metal rig around my camera. I used it to attach things like my little mixer and the wireless microphone receiver to my camera. You can quickly run out of space with the little nest of attachments you might need to shoot video and also record good sound. But what I didn't realize at the time is that the whole rig was out of balance and a bit top heavy and whenever I made adjustments the touch of the knobs on the mixer translated into jiggly video. Live and learn. But I did have a safety net that kept the video from being ruined. More about that in a second.
I've gotten tired of trying to determine the quality of video cameras from what I see on the web because everybody is hellbent on testing the high ISO limits on their stuff. I wondered how good all this could look if we did things old school. To that end, rather than depending just on available light or the little streams of photons from battery powered LEDs, I decided to really light the interviews. Optimally light them. Spend some time and energy lifting heavy lights up onto heavy stands and covering the lights with good diffusion materials and then really working them over with a light meter to be sure that we were getting what we pay for out of the cameras = great image quality.
We were shooting in the second floor bar at Zach Theatre and we were comping our frame so that we could include a lit sign that says, "Dream" across the lobby about a hundred feet away. I used a big, professional multi-tubed fluorescent fixture, covered with Rosco diffusion material on my left and up. I used a second light just to the left of the camera and about eight feet high. It was covered with the same diffusion. A third fluorescent fixture, covered with two layers of diffusion, was position off the right side of the camera at almost 90 degrees. Altogether it was a soft wash of light with a nice ratio between the key side and the fill side---very flattering for peoples' faces, which was my main intention.
The quantity of light gave me some working room for exposure. The Nikon D810 was the primary camera and I was able to use it with an 85mm. The exposure was: 30 fps, 1/60th second shutter speed, f4.0, ISO 250. Given that this is reputedly the best sensor in any full frame camera I thought that should result in some really good files. A much better test than shooting street lights at 12,000 ISO (unless that's what your projects routinely call for...).
The files we got are lush and detailed and the skin tones are sooo right on the money. The benefits of careful incident light metering and properly executed custom white balance are apparent all the way through. No noise, not even in the black areas, no blow out of highlights and a luscious range of color correct tones throughout. This is what I really wanted to see. This is what I thought I was paying for when I bought the camera.
The one glaring weak spot of the Nikon D810 as a video production camera is the lack of focus peaking. An aperture of f4.0 is great as long as your talent stays on their mark but ours moved during one part of the interview and the resolution of the screen and my old eyes just weren't up to the task of re-focusing accurately. The "fix" is to buy a good, external monitor to run off the HDMI port. Most of the ext. monitors include focus peaking in their feature sets... crikey. More expense to compensate for what Nikon could surely add in firmware...
Another issue I've grappled with lately was getting good sound into the D810. My Rode NTG-2 microphone doesn't match well when directly connected to the camera. There is an impedance mismatch that adds noise and reduces levels. I spent most of the afternoon on Friday playing with various audio stuff and found that the balanced pro microphones sound much better running through the Beachtek DXA-2T which has balancing transformers just for this purpose. But the best sound of all came from the Sennheiser wireless microphone kit I bought a few years back. While it doesn't need the transformers for good sound quality into the camera it helps to run any mic through the little "mixer" because it gives you the ability to turn down the levels heading into the camera with a physical knob instead of having to try and ride levels with an on screen menu (which I can't figure out how to make functional during recording....).
I tested twelve microphone and mixer combinations along with running the sound through a Zoom H4n digital audio recorder and the best signal of all was with the Sennheiser/BeachTek combo. But having all of that hanging on the camera rig created my biggest problem. Every time I would use a knob to change levels the camera jiggled and vibrated a bit and ruined a few seconds of the visual content. So, B-roll camera to the rescue!!!
While my early tests with the Olympus EM5.2 (as a video camera) were not stellar it is more than adequate to use as a b-roll camera to capture a different angle while filming. That second angle was critical yesterday because it gives me good footage to cut away to when my "A" camera goes all jiggly. Knowing we might need some cutaway stuff I brought along the EM5.2, outfitted with a 12-35mm f2.8 Panasonic lens and put them on a tripod over to the right of the primary camera and comped a wider frame.
That camera rolled through the whole process with a fixed focus, and since the frame was wider and the depth of field greater (smaller sensor) there are no parts that can't be used because the talent stepped away from the original mark. Another observation I have to make is that I'm finding better ways to shoot video on the EM5.2. My original tests all used the neutral camera profile. Over time I experimented with modifying the profile by turning down the sharpening and the contrast in that profile. But I recently paid attention the choices and discovered the muted profile and have been using that for video, with the sharpening turned all the way down. It's much better. Still not as sharp and detailed as the big Nikon after post processing of both, but better than using the neutral or standard profiles on that camera.
But I am here to testify that having just good video out of the EM5.2 was a lifesaver in this instance because of the need for cover-your-ass b-roll footage to compensate for my operating shortcomings with the main camera. Live and learn. Fortunately I had a nice little shotgun microphone in the hot shoe of the Oly camera and the sound is amply good for easy syncing up of the two sets of footage.
By lighting everything well both cameras gave me better moving images than I'd gotten before. By using the BeachTek as a volume controller for the wireless microphones I also got better sound quality and more control than before. Learning can be a slow process of trial and error but sometimes the biggest obstacle for me is overcoming laziness and doing things the right way even though more steps are involved.
Using the Olympus as a second movie camera was great but where it really came in hand was in quickly grabbing it off the tripod, flicking on the image stabilization and then shoot still shots of the talent and the artistic director for future marketing use. The Nikon was locked onto its cage and tethered to so many parts and pieces that it would have taken to much time to get it into the agile shooting mode.
After I pulled down the lights, did my resistance workout with the sandbags and got all of the gear into my car the marketing director asked if I could shoot a few stills and a bit of video of Kenny Williams. Kenny is a wonderful actor, singer, dancer whom I have known for years. He was the featured, pre-show singer in the lounge that evening. Accompanied by a pianist Kenny was singing some really great jazz songs.
I grabbed the EM5.2, attached a little Azden microphone and headed back in to play around. Shooting handheld was fun and the quality of the image stabilization was perfect. Just like having a slider attached but one able to move in four dimensions... I was impressed with the footage at ISO 640 and with the changes I've made in terms of profiles and sharpening settings the footage actually looked quite good. I dropped the camera on a table and stood around to listen to one song unencumbered by my "production" mentality and then headed home.
Now we have 26 gigabytes of content to sort through but I'm not the editor for this. I can't imagine trying to do production with uncompressed ProRes files. I'm not sure we could buy hard drives quickly enough.
Final take? The still images from the Olympus were sharp and lovely. Really lovely. The video from the camera is working better for me, especially if I light the heck out of a scene and get all the other parameters perfect. The video images from the D810 are really, really good. I just need to figure out the focus peaking issue. Either that or one needs to be able to "punch in" to the image (magnify) while shooting in order to make mid-course focus corrections. Once we get that sorted I'll be officially certified as a truly happy camper.
And that's what we did for fun on Saturday afternoon.... Damn, those sandbags and extension cables are heavy. Time to find some strong, new assistants.