My particular choices for video gear

I am on my way to mastering video as a way of visually telling stories. A student asked about the gear I have chosen to use during that evolution. That question prompted the following answers, which became another blog entry. Keep in mind that MY answers to these questions are unique to my process. Every videographer / photographer solves their problems differently.  With that in mind….The student asked:

What audio gear do you recommend for video, particularly which brand/model of wireless mic? I assume the easiest way to pick up clear audio from a person is a wireless lapel mic. Any other audio gear you recommend as well?

My audio set-up is built around the idea of having as little gear as possible when working.  It is also built around the idea of working on my own, without any other crew as I am recording both audio and video. Most folks have “crews“ which might include a director, a camera person and sound person. I prefer not to do that. That is a HIGHLY personal choice that impacts the quality of my work in many ways. My audio may not be quite as good as someone else’s with a larger crew. On the other hand, I can work more closely and intimately while working at much lower costs.

I use a Tascam DR 60 MKII portable recorder.  My set up is to have the main audio coming from a Sennheiser wireless lavalier mic which is usually clipped on the primary speaker’s collar near their neck. I have that set up so that the sound goes wirelessly to the Tascam as channel one in that three channel audio recorder/pre-amp “box.” (I am only using two channels generally.)  That set up gives me the main speaker’s narration/voice on channel one.   The second channel going into the Tascam usually is the sound from a Sennheiser MKE-400 shot gun mic that is aimed at the activity in front of the camera. That gives me good ambient audio. That mic is hard wired into channel two of the Tascam and usually sits atop the camera in the hot shoe or on a bracket above that hot shoe.

So I am set up with two audio tracks (call them left and right) going into the Tascam box.  Then I send that stereo signal from the Tascam into my camera with the audio panned extremely left and right. That panning arrangement is just is a setting in the menus within the Tacsam. That means that both left and right tracks are recorded in synch with the video. Since I have the two tracks in stereo, separated and on their own, in the editing I can cut out the left or right channel (or adjust the volume difference between the two channels) as much as I want and still have the sound synched with the video.

One other BIG issue is the camera choice. I use an Olympus OMD EM-5 MKII, partly because I love the Olympus cameras, but mostly because that particular camera has an audio “in” plug so I can send the sound “in” to the camera.  It also has an audio “out” plug so I can hear the audio being recorded with the video.  Not all camera give you that option. I could listen to the the audio via the Tascam box, but I prefer to hear the audio that is actually going into the camera, so I know exactly what I have synced with the video file.

There are many audio boxes that do what I described, including the BeachTek and JuicedLink.  The Tascam is unique in that it ALSO records that same audio track on an SD card in the Tascam.  The setting I use records the stereo audio (channels one and two) on the card at full volume and makes a duplicate copy six decibels lower, in case the volume spikes during the recording.  I usually have that audio recording turned on and recording CONTINUOUSLY during the entire interview or event, so no matter what happens, I get good audio of the speaker.  I may not have video of their face when they say something profound but I will have the audio.  I can later synch that recorded audio with the video, if need be.  I should say that 95% of the time the audio is synched directly with a clean left and right channels as described above, so I can use either of these sound tracks as needed without going to that back up track, but it is nice to have that back up at two different volumes, just in case.

The Tascam threads into the bottom of my camera and the microphone sits on top so it is a relatively self contained rig.  I often use a monopod from Benro with a nice video panning head to keep that big combo relatively stable.  So, that set up solves my problem.  This combination is not the best or worst. It works for me.

How does flash or lighting work for video? If you recording a video interview with a person do you typically have some sort of small lighting setup even if you’re on location?

My approach is to use ambient light as often as possible.  That is just me. Many folks happily light situations, but I find that setting up lights adds huge chunks of time to each shoot/interview/etc.  I have minimal supplemental lights, primarily the Kick light. I use that light just like I use the electronic flash to make the exposure in the background/environment roughly match the exposure in the foreground, which is the person I am interviewing or talking with. I tend to (whether using video or still capture) use the same process. I find a well lighted background and put my subject/person in a place where that bright place is the background but where the person is in much less light than the background. In essence, I am creating a silhouette. Then, the Kick light (in the case of video or the electronic flash when shooting stills) is set to raise the brightness on the subject to roughly match that of the lighted background. I am pretty good at evaluating and using available light so my eyes are my key for starting to figure out this process. Also, the fact that I have lots of fixed focal length lenses with large maximum apertures means I can do most of the work with ambient light while throwing the background out of focus.

One thing that with video that is different compared to shooting stills is that with video I need to continually custom white balance my video as the light sources often change room to room or venue to venue.

Increasingly, many shooters now only use continuous light set-ups and do not arrange a separate flash set-up because of the need for continuous lights for video. Having said that, high end shoots may involve separate shoots, but my shoots are usually much smaller than that.

I can’t emphasize how personal and subjective these choices are. They work for me. The set-ups I described solve the particular set of problems I face. Nothing more. I STRONGLY encourage you to look at the set ups that others use then hybridize everything you learn and make up your own set-up. Let me know what your final set-up is, by the way. I am SURE I can learn something from that.

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