The changing nature of video capture. Faster, Pussycat; faster.

Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

Habit is a powerful deterrent to change. Most of my friends who have been in the video business for quite a while started out shooting with big, over the shoulder, ENG video cameras. They weighed a lot and came with batteries that are heavier than my entire RX10iii camera. Most people used them planted on stout tripods. Part of the process was connecting multiple people to the camera.  Umbilical cords running off to sound techs and cables running off to remote monitors so everyone on the crew and client side could second guess and comment on your shots. People standing next to the camera to focus.  It's a process that depends on a slow, step by step collaboration with one's crew. 

I was the still photographer on an advertising video shoot last year and I was amazed at the  waste of time a relatively large group of seasoned professionals was able to engineer. We waited for 1990's style lighting to be set and tweaked by a crew of three. We waited as the sound person went through cord after cord, trying desperately to track down a persistent hum until someone finally pointed out to him that his cable was running directly across one hot extension cord and running parallel to another...

I am certain that the audio would have been just as good run directly into the videographer's FS7 video camera instead of monkeying around with dual sound into a high end audio deck.

The videographer was experimenting with flexible, rubber dolly track and a motor driven set of tripod wheels and we lost a time to all the jerky motion, caused by the on-off of the motor ,out of the system.  I would have suggested turning the servo driven motors (complete with game style joystick controller) off and having one of the many superfluous people on the set just push the whole assemblage. 

With the camera fully festooned with "pro" crap it must have ballooned to double its unencumbered size and weight. Fancy grips, electronic zoom triggers on the handgrips (doh! Prime lenses), giant matte boxes on rails, Anton Bauer batteries hanging off the back (and we were surrounded by electrical outlets....go figure) and a gigantic, third party EVF replacing the stock one ---- even though the whole camera rig was tethered to a monitor just to one side of the camera. It was an amazing example of last century necessity translating into this century overkill. All the touches, the job specific crew, the tight anchoring to the tripod, the emotional anchoring to the failed dolly track, and the constant fixing of unproven new tech cut the total number of in studio shots to about 10 that day. And when I saw the final product I didn't see the value add of the time expended. It reminded me of a mid-tier corporate video from 20 years ago. 

I am baffled at people's resistance to change. I can't imagine trying to get enough fluid and dynamic shots in a day straitjacketed by such a clumsy process. Especially when most of the video being produced is headed straight for your phone.

The "big crew" approach to video production is entirely at odds with the style of video content and editing that's popular today. Watch commercials, good web content, or a modern event presentation, and you'll see fast cuts. Except for interview segments it's routine to see a new scene, from a new cut, every two to three seconds, and four to five seconds now feels like an eternity. If you are editing a current, three to five minute, video ( see our "Cantine" video) you're likely going to use about 60 to 100 short clips (or more)  cut together to make the program. This edit pacing demands a faster, more fluid approach to shooting ----- unless your client is comfy giving you days and days to move the big camera and crew around, and to stand stationary, problem solving your rig for a while...

I like using my RX10iii, or the model 2, for the majority of my non-interview shots. If I'm on a tripod (a nice, lightweight tripod with a good head) I can shoot lots of moderately long shots with good stability in 4K and also have the advantage (when working in a 1080p timeline) of being able to crop in, use the "Ken Burns" effect, or lay on additional image stabilization in post production. 

These cameras come into their own when you pull them off the tripod and use them handheld. In this capacity I switch gears and use them in 1080p so I can take advantage of Sony's very, very good "active" and "active intelligent" I.S. modes. With practice one can learn to do steady, even, short pans that work. In wider angle settings, when using the continuous focus modes, you can use your feet (or bend at the waist) to "push in" or "pull out" instead of zooming. No need to set up sliders or improvise dollies for these kinds of clips. And, with good performance AF used in close, wide shots you certainly don't need to travel with a focus puller. 

We were shooting mobility this last week and I thought it would be great to do some trucking shots; moving the camera parallel to the talent while he walked with the camera cropped in close to the talent's microprocessor controlled leg. The old school method would have been to have the extended crew bring in dolly tracks and piece them together for the fifty foot stretch we might be traversing. We'd also need to rent a dolly.

With a stellar lens and really good image stabilization we made good use of a Metro cart with a heavy book and a soft, pliable scarf as a camera holder. It's hard to see in this illustration (below) but I have a small (7 inch) monitor on the top shelf of the cart so I can accurately track the talent and match his speed. It took five minutes to rig and the shots looked great. Total time getting 8-10 variations was about ten minutes. Then we were on to the next scene. 

And it's not just "about the camera" it's about the need to embrace a newer, faster production mentality if you want to work efficiently in a modern visual idiom. I could do the same thing with a Sony z150 video camera but I couldn't do the same kind of work with an FS7 and a handful of single focal length, manual focus lenses. Not the same. Difference in quality? Tell me when you see that FS 7 programming on the small laptop screens, telephone screens and on your iPads....

Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

One of the most compelling production features of the RX10 series cameras are those great lenses on them. The shot I was working on below tracked along with our talent couple as they walked up a long sidewalk toward the camera. Using the center focusing sensor the camera was able to accurately track the couple while I use the power zoom control next to the shutter button to (slowly) zoom out and maintain the same frame composition as I slowly and smoothly zoomed from nearly 600mm (equiv.) to about 35mm (equiv.) as they strolled past my camera position. One take. We reviewed it, saw that it worked and moved on. Can you imagine doing this same shot "old school" style? A bigger camera on a solid tripod with an operator moving the camera to maintain the couples' comp in the frame while a focus puller racks focus on a super heavy and super expensive, manual focus zoom lens! That takes coordination, rehearsal and manpower. And for what? To match the quality of a shot we were easily able to get while handheld, in blowing snow and freezing wind? A shot of which only a small portion will be included in the final edit...

Photo Courtesy: ODL Designs.

When my (videography) friends and I talk and the conversation comes around to how we shoot video they are always quick to dismiss the Sony RX10's (and other non-conventional cameras) and when I ask them what's different they point to XLR connectors, built in ND filters and external controls. Really? Adding a filter, and an audio interface from Sony is child's play ---- and very affordable. External controls? Set your camera up before you start shooting and you'll have it nailed. For high end work I totally get the bigger, denser files from more expensive, dedicated video cameras, but.... the Sony UHD looks pretty good on big screens; especially if you nail the exposure and white balance before you push the red button...

I could be missing something but the final results tell me I'm heading in a direction that feels right for me. Smaller, faster, happier.


Fred said...

You know that you are dashing my fantasies about needing an Alexa.
This post is a real eye opener. When I saw pictures of movie sets with all the people and equipment involved I assumed that they were all necessary for any shoot if you could afford them.
As an amateur shooting club meetings I need to do things inexpensively and this post reminds me that it is possible.
Kirk, you have really opened up my eyes, and not for the first time.

Kirk Tuck said...

I know not everyone is interested in video. Readership is down. Must be time to write article like this: CANON AND NIKON VERSUS THE SINISTER MIRRORLESS CONSPIRACY!!! WHY MIRRORS WILL ALWAYS RULE AND EVFS WILL ALWAYS DROOL....

Naw, can't bring myself to do it....

Mike said...

I'm fascinated with your addition of video production. I've been shooting stills for a client and have recently been asked to provide video (mostly interviews for social media) and have been learning a good bit. I'm devouring your posts about video hoping to glean some knowledge. Thanks for sharing; I have so much to learn.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Mike, I guess we'll happily muddle through the learning curve together!!!

ODL Designs said...

Hey Kirk,
I suspect you have developed a photography following and it may take some time to see that adjust to a more balanced photo/video readership.

I love these posts as I am following in your footsteps adding video to my photography services. I just finished a tradeshow video before you arrived with a clients dogs and simply pulled together all the cameras that shot video (EPL3, EM5, EM5.2 and an EM1), lined up all the settings, white balanced them all and the footage sits really well together.

I will send over a bunch more BTS photos as I do have one of you bent over the table adjusting settings on the RX10ii on the small table top tripod.

Great read!

Michael Matthews said...

Great posts, both this and the preceding one. The story-telling prose is terrific and the photos add interest and clarity. More!

Your pitch for the minimalist equipment approach finally has quashed my earlier "Jeez, just get a video camera." attitude. The quality, flexibility, and ease of use packed into the Sony equipment meets or exceeds any demand in the work you're doing. Plus, of course, the patient and persistent approach you've applied to sorting out the gear and mastering it adds up to an elegant combination.

The example of last year's advertising video shoot causes my mind to fast-reverse 50 years to 1966 and TV news coverage of the kidnapping of Peggy Ann Bradnick by William "Mountain Man" Hollenbaugh in central Pennsylvania.

Peggy Ann, a 17 year old high school student from Shade Gap, PA, had just gotten off a school bus with her brother(s) and sisters when she was scooped up by Hollenbaugh, an ex-con and noted survivalist lunatic. Events which followed led to a weeklong manhunt through the mountains and quickly bloomed to become a national and international story covered by all media. (details available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidnapping_of_Peggy_Ann_Bradnick)

The hunt for the Mountain Man and his captive was the largest in US history, involving state police, the FBI, and the National Guard.
One FBI agent was shot and killed by Hollenbaugh.

Unlike today's TV news coverage, there were no microwave live-shot trucks, no satellite links. Everything was done on film, meaning shoulder mounted 16mm cameras with 400-foot magazines. Each of those also required a sound man, carrying an amplifier/mixer linked to the camera by an umbilical cord. The three Pittsburgh and three Philadelphia stations were all clambering around with this gear. And when the networks sent in crews from DC and New York, they added Arriflex and other exotic cameras plus a producer/director, a grip or two and supplemental lighting rigs for each crew. All this for highly mobile, fast moving news coverage.

All but one. A TV station from (I think) Altoona sent one guy with a handheld Hitachi camera which fed its signal to a small reel-to-reel quarter inch tape recorder no larger than a kid's lunchbox.

Ten years later, a transition greatly slowed by union contracts, the film cameras were all but gone. Small markets led the revolution, always years ahead of the big guys.

Just as you've shown in this job, keeping it light, simple, and being open to change will leave the overweight and overly complex crews stumbling around and colliding with one another until their share of the market collapses.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Michael, thanks so much for that. As I sit here in my office reviewing the 4K video from my interviews full across a 27 inch monitor I still can't believe how good this footage looks. Most of the value add is the lighting (but I learned how to do that 20 or 30 years ago...) but the sharpness and tonality of the visual images is just jaw dropping. The set up didn't seem difficult to me. The only difference between using the A7Rii and a "real" video camera would have been the way the microphones are plugged in. I have one extra step, I have to plug the Beachtek interface into the camera. That's the ONLY difference. The camera has state of the art, PD-AF on sensor auto focusing but, as you well know, we shot in manual. There's no difference in the video versus still cameras from Sony in the amount you can punch in to check focus and, to my eye, the EVF of the A7Rii is of higher quality than that of the Sony FS-7. I can hardly wait to stumble through the client approval processes and editing in order to share this with you all.

Audio? Sounds pretty sweet (except for the occasional slamming doors in the background...grrrrrr. ).

milldave said...

Hi Kirk,
I'm one of those with only a passing interest in video, but have followed these posts to see what a real pro does on location and how he does it.
Well worth the read (even if my fellow Canadians prefer Tim Horton's donuts and coffee to me!), to garner knowledge about something I have always dismissed as not for me; who knows, now that I see what's involved, what I might try in the future.
If we only stick to one subject that we're comfortable with, how will we ever know what we're missing?
And when I learn, I want to be entertained as well as enlightened, which you do effortlessly and with humour; boy, do I envy you that ability!
Don't worry about the traffic, you won't lose the hardcore of people who visit these pages, as they already know what's to be found within.
Think of it as having a multi-talented and multi-faceted audience, which is more selective in its taste than the masses.
Finally, the photo of the VSL Baby Wrangler is a gem; the sheer joy on your face makes me think you will be one helluva grandparent!
Thanks for sharing something without ego, angst and politics; a rare thing these days!

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Dave. Your comment warmed my heart this afternoon. Much appreciated.

typingtalker said...

My first exposure to video was an educational/documentary done in our lab decades ago for a drug company. Three people -- videographer (one camera), tape operator (push the record button, wait three seconds, yell "Speed.") and a director. The tape recorder et al sat on a gurney in the hall connected by thick cables to the camera. In and out in one morning. We all signed releases and got $1.

Two years ago, I was involved in a local TV news/feature piece. Two people -- videographer (Panasonic/Sony (I forget) video camera, LED light, sometimes hand-held. sometimes tripod) and Talent/reporter. In and out in two hours. Experience counts.

I see plenty of pro video going on at trade shows. It's mostly a two or three-person team -- one videographer (Canon mostly), one sound person and a wrangler to move things along and keep the civilians out of the way. Not quite run-and-gun but they keep moving.