Buying for Documentary in Tanzania

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by pdpfilms, Dec 20, 2006.

  1. pdpfilms macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #1
    Howdy-
    I've got a few of your typical gear questions for a potential documentary in Tanzania. I'd love to do it in HD, and I've been reading up on the HVX-200. It seems to be a pretty amazing camera, but I'm not sure if it's the one for me. First of all, what recording medium would be best? I'd maybe be able to bring a laptop, but what are the data rates produced by the HVX? If I were down there for 1-2 months, shooting a few hours every few days, how much space would I need? I know that the HVX can record to tape, but can it record true 720p to them? If so, I'd simply buy 50-75 tapes and bring them down.

    The other thing I'm wondering is about power.... I know the power source where i'dbe filming is very unreliable, so what are my options? I know there are a few portable solar cells you can buy, but could they provide enough charge to fill the batteries?

    Does anyone have extensive experience with the HVX or have used it in similar rough and tough documentary situations?
     
  2. MovieCutter macrumors 68040

    MovieCutter

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    #2
    The problem with HVX right off the top of my head is that it will ONLY RECORD HD TO P2 CARDS!!! It will not record HD to tape. You'd have to pick up a Sony V1U to do 1080P, but it's HDV...
     
  3. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #3
    Are you saying that it won't even record 720p to tape? I was so sure I heard that somewhere during its launch.

    EDIT: I'd like to avoid HDV, and 1080p or even 1080i isn't a necessity for this production.
     
  4. sturigdson macrumors regular

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    #4
    Yep, moviecutter's right. the HVX-200 is a beautiful camera that records solely to panasonic's solid-state p2 cards. Won't necessarily save you time or money there. You can get their protable hard drive P2Store system, which is quite effective and helps with the workflow, but it too needs a battery, so you're just doubling your power-concerns that way if you're shooting in an area with unstable power supplies. Also, you'll want/need immediate back up of your footage- we duplicate everything onto a computer hard drive and an external backup hard drive before we delete anything from the P2 card or the P2Store. That means you'll definitely want to take a laptop along with you.

    You can avoid recording onto the P2 cards using an HD/SD breakout box to record to an HD deck, such as this box made by AJA: http://aja.com/html/products_converters_HD10AVA.html. Never used it, so I can't speak to it. You can also skip the P2 cards and go straight to a hard drive, using something like this: http://www.focusinfo.com/solutions/catalog.asp?id=150. Again, I've never used it, so I can't give you much information about it.

    I think there's a common confusion with the HVX-200- it can, in fact, record in MiniDV SD format, but it doesn't record that format to tape- it only records directly to the P2 cards. Easy to get confused in it.

    Are there other reasons you want to avoid HDV? It's not a terrible format, and can be upressed with relatively good fidelity to HD.

    Good luck with the doc, however. What's the basic topic, if you don't mind me asking?
     
  5. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #5
    Darn. I was hoping i could just use tapes... despite the years of logging and capturing it would require post fieldwork. Well, I could bring my Powerbook and get a 100gb Firestore. But that would mean I have the following things eating power:

    Powerbook
    2x 1TB HDD
    HVX-200 Batteries
    Firestore Batteries
    Still Camera Batteries

    I was looking into some solar solutions for these things, though I'm not sure that throughout the day I'd get enough power to charge all of them (minus the HDD's.) I'm pretty sure the place has power, but that it's quite unreliable. Which means I'd be editing nothing, simply turning on the HDD's to copy from the Firestore....

    ...eek. i just thought about the possibility of a power failure during a copy session. That could destroy all of the footage already on it... that's a very scary thought.

    Any other ideas?



    Oh, and right now it's in pre-preproduction. It would be centered around a refugee orphanage in Tanzania, focusing mostly on the life of a select bunch of children.

    Here's the organization's website: www.tanzaniachildrensfund.org
     
  6. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #6
    Have you considered other options?

    Here's one that would seem to fit the bill... the Canon XH A1:

    http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/controller?act=ModelDetailAct&fcategoryid=175&modelid=14061

    There are plenty of hand-on reports from users:

    http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/forumdisplay.php?f=93

    And the price is right... can be had for as little as $3,500 brand new.

    Take a look... it's always good to have options.

    Plus, the A1 is actually better (less noisy) in low-light which is especially important in a gun 'n run docu situations where lighting can be dodgy.
     
  7. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #7
    This looks pretty good. I want to be sure, however, that I'm not sacrificing image quality for price. This would, however, decrease my budget significantly... by almost $4,500 as I wouldn't need to buy a firestore, HD space to last 2 months, or bring my laptop.

    It looks like this camera produces beautiful images, comparable to the XL-H1. Has anyone tried either?
     
  8. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #8
    Actually, if anything, surprisingly, the A1 image is even better than the H1 (even though they share some of the same hardware)... I strongly urge you to peruse the second link I gave you, on dvxuser.com... you'll find detailed comparisons with the H1 as well as panny's hvx200, plus m2t footage etc., also you'll get an extensive list of optimal settings for the camera in various conditions (the first sticky in that thread)... the camera's been out for some weeks now, and there's plenty of feedback from the field, from all over the world. In general, you'll find a goldmine of information there. The A1 looks absolutely smashing!
     
  9. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #9
    You're darn right it does! I've spent the past hour or so reading through those threads. This camera seems to be the one for me. A huge hurdle (as mentioned earlier) in Tanzania is the power... The village is fully solar- powered, and it isn't very reliable. I'm not sure how good i'd feel about trying to dump footage onto hard drives between power outages. Eek. However, if I used this cam, I could bring my own solar setup to charge my camera batteries, and not have to worry about laptop power, hard drive power, or charging a firestore battery. So much easier!

    Plus, i have hard tapes, and don't have to worry about buying/bringing 2TB down there, keeping it clean, keeping it safe, keeping it safe in transport, etc. Just bring down 50 tapes or so and keep them in a pelican- no data loss, no power loss, just sturdy, old fashioned media.

    Thank you so much for suggesting this:) - I'd probably not have considered it.
     
  10. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #10
    no prob, pdpfilms...

    in general, if I were you, I'd sign up to dvxuser.com (I'm on there also as OldCorpse), as it is a fantastic resource. You can ask bunches of questions about your A1 and not only... equipment in general, production techiques etc. Anytime you're prepping for a production as you are now, you'll have tons of questions and concerns... why not ask a huge audience of professionals and experts? They'll be able to give you a lot of tips... many have done documentaries in tough "3rd world" (hate that term) conditions. It's absolutely worth it, and it costs nothing.

    Good luck!
     
  11. yoak macrumors 65816

    yoak

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    Oslo, Norway
    #11
    I agree with people here, stay away from the HVX200. It´s not the camera for your project. It´s also not very good in low level light conditions.
    It´s more usefull for drama work, than docu.

    I was 2 weeks in India shooting a documentary using a Sony HDV (the top model).
    I was never too keen on this camera, but it was the one the production had.
    I have to say I was very happy with that camera for this kind of work.

    I got some really good footage with it. Shots from the Dewali ( a festival that takes place after sundown) turned out great. You can even gain up to 9db (I hardly ever use gain when shooting as I can´t stand the noise in the picture) with this camera and hardly notice any noise in the picture.

    I used it on a camel safari in the desert for 2 days, with out any problems.

    It was a very hard shoot for the camera and it never failed.

    I can really recomend it for documentary work in remote locations.

    Also shooting DV tapes gives you the advantage that you can find them almost anywhere now if you should need to get more.

    Good luck.

    PS I think the Canon would be great as well, but I haven´t used it yet

    PPS You could also check out dvinfo.net, another great forum
     
  12. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #12
    Beautiful. Thanks so much guys. I'm now signed up with dvxuser under the name IanBJohnson. Now does anyone have any good setups (as far as audio equipment, shoulder mounts, etc) to share for a remote on location documentary?

    Thanks!!!
     
  13. killr_b macrumors 6502a

    killr_b

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    #13
    I think anything by Varizoom will catch your eye.
    I've been a huge customer of theirs since 2001.
    Some of the simplest and most effective designs I've ever used.

    Check it out here.
     
  14. OldCorpse macrumors 65816

    OldCorpse

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    #14
    Here are some links for ya... emphasis on keeping quality high at a reasonable budget.

    Harsh light out there in Tanzania, I assume... always good to have some matte boxes, good quality, very cheap:

    http://www.indiesnap.com/DVXuser/

    The best, most versatile shoulder brace - bar none - and at a budget price:

    http://www.dvmultirig.com/

    Oh, and first thing you should do: get a nd filter to protect your lens!

    You really should think carefully about the style of your documentary. Will you need a lot of mobility, quick gun 'n run, on the spot setups? Or will you do a lot of interviews and generally a more National Geographic vibe?

    Answer those questions, and you'll know what you need in the way of tripods - do you need a small unit you can carry yourself, do you need a more stable bigger tripod for interviews or time lapse footage... in any case, a good fluid head is a must.

    Or maybe you'll want a smoother look with your mobile work, in which case you may consider a small steadicam setup... the absolute best, and not very much money (can be had for less than $800) is the Merlin, developed by the original steadicam guy... here's a great resource for Merlin settings:

    http://www.merlincookbook.com/submit.php

    You should definitely pay attention to audio. Get at least 2-3 mikes, some for more ambient pickups, some for dialogue, and invest in a good boom (documentaries mean hours and hours of work for the audio guy - without a good boom he'll go crazy). If I could give you one piece of advice above all, it's this: GET THE VERY BEST AUDIO YOU CAN AFFORD. This means not just equipment, but making sure that your sound guy is qualified and you shoot with audio quality in mind. The number one technical downfall of indy productions (documentaries and fiction alike) is poor sound. An audience will forgive a bad picture, but will never forgive bad sound. And do NOT think "I'll fix audio in post"... that *never* works. Substandard sound immediately marks you as a sloppy amateur and loses you all credibility. Don't be that guy who spends all his energy on getting the picture, and then loses it all through poor sound.

    Hopefully others will chime in, but I think best to take your questions to a forum more dedicated to documentary projects, you'll get a bigger response (this is after all a mac site :))
     
  15. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #15
    Cool, thanks.

    I'm not sure about the harshness of the light there- it's technically the Rift Valley which seems to be somewhat lush compared to the rest of the country. But nevertheless, the matte box could be a good idea. However, how does this really help shooting, I've always wondered?

    As for the merlin, I think I'm going to go as simple as possible, and just look into a shoulder mount if anything.

    And I didn't think about any ND filters- Every camera I've used had built-in ND filters, and I assume that the XH-A1 does too. Can any owners shed light on this? (Of course, i'll be buying a UV filter and a backup to protect the glass itself.)

    Sound. I know how important it is, and this is a huge area of debate for me. This project is meant to be simple- Pretty much a one man show. I know that means many challenges during production, and many things to think about. But this is to be a very personal documentary in a very personal place (a refugee children's village), and I want to be as unimposing as possible. I alreadey have a super nice Sanken CS-1, windblock and camera shock mount, so that's an option. I'm not so keen on the mic in one hand, camera in the other style however, as I'd like to have hands free for full manual control. I've contemplated asking my girlfriend..er... assistant... to come do audio, but that adds about $2,300 to the budget in flight/room+board as well. Another option is to bring a boom and ask locals for help, or find a volunteer buddy to work with me. That's a little less reliable though, as they've likely had no experience or won't have the time, as there's lots to do down there.

    I've got an old Manfrotto tripd with a fluid head. It's realatively lightweight, so i think I'll bring that. The look of the film is going to be much more calm and controlled than your average 'run and gun' documentary. Plenty of sit-down interviews, and a good deal of low-action shots with the children.

    Thanks everyone! This is why i love MR... good solid info you can trust.
     
  16. killr_b macrumors 6502a

    killr_b

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    #16
    The only hands-free shoulder mount I've ever used.
    It balances the cam perfectly so you can drop both hands and still move!
    I know, the girl in the picture is holding it with one hand, but I swear with a little well placed padding that mount becomes a solid part of you. And it's comfortable and fast to learn, handle, put on and take off. All very important when you're the whole crew.
     
  17. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    #17
    You need a sound person and a "go-fer" person which could be a person there locally (someone to hold a bounce board, get something while you are in the middle of shooting, etc.,). Camera mounted mics are good for one thing and that's nat sound. Using a camera mounted mic as your primary audio tool is just asking for sh*tty audio. Get a sound person (someone who knows how to properly handle a boom and mic people), a boom, a shotgun for the boom, a lav, a shotgun for the camera, and at least 1 spare shotgun and 1 spare lav.

    Using wireless mics obviously can make things easier as the camera and boom aren't tethered, but you need to make sure you always have spare batteries and XLR cables on hand incase the wireless units fail or are getting interference.

    I have no idea what the budget for your project is, but cutting corners is only going to bite you in the @ss. I mean, a short term savings that costs you more down the road is no savings at all. Hypothetical situation. You cut corners and spend $75k on a movie that is so-so and has pretty much no chance of being sold, or you spend $100k on a movie that is good and has at least some chance of being sold.


    Lethal
     
  18. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #18
    The problem is, this is in Tanzania. It's a $1,500 flight for anyone, and it's $100 a week on top of that to stay in the village. That adds a large percentage on the budget. I understand fully the necessity of sound in a film, but this is just not feasible.

    To clarify- the camera mounted mic is not the built-in mic. It's an $800 Hypercardoid XLR. I'm certainly going to bring a boom and stand for interviews, but I'm likely going to have to keep it on-camera. I may end up passing the boom and mic to a local tethered to me as i'll have the gear, but we'll see. Wireless is not really an option, as the remote location means no shopping around when the 9volt dies, and it's sensitive, very expensive gear.

    And the budget (currently) is looking to be about $17,000 including tickets, $800 for my two month stay, and two XH-A1's, and other bits and pieces. I wouldn't say i'm cutting corners, but doing the best with what will be available to me.
     
  19. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    #19
    If you fully understood the importance of sound you wouldn't be planning to record it so poorly. Do you need the Canon HDV cameras? Do you need an $800 shotgun? Why not shoot standard def and spend the $800 on two shotguns and a lav? I did a quick search at bhphotovideo.com and the price difference between a DVX100b and the XH-A1 is about $900. If you get 2 DVXs instead of two XH-A1s there's over half the money you need to get another person over seas.

    It's not the quality of the camera mic it's the fixed location that is problematic. A shotgun mic fixed on a camera has a very narrow window of usefulness when it comes to recording an interview subject. If you are going to use a camera-mounted mic or a locked off boom what happens when the subject leans forward, or back, or turns their head? How are you going to do on-the-fly stand ups w/squirly little kids? Pretty much just properly framing the camera will mean the camera mic will be in the wrong position to get good sound of what the subject is saying.

    And I completely understand about the budget. I'm cutting a micro-budget documentary right now. With sound ranging from bad to unusable. There are killer sound bites that I can't use because someone wouldn't spring the extra cash for a $200 lav. So now the project is suffering. Not only are the storytelling options needlessly limited, but their post costs are going up because I'm spending so much time doing salvage and clean up work. Yeah, they saved $5 on Friday, but now they are having to spend an extra $50 on Monday. I worked on a no-budget short film a year ago w/the same deal. They didn't do it right in production and that nearly tripled the post time and costs. The real kicker about the short film is that they had the right gear, they just didn't have people (*cough*boom ops*cough*) that knew what they were doing using it. Hell, I even worked on a TV show that, due to poor pre-production planning, had massive cost over runs in post and we almost didn't get paid a couple of times because of it.

    I'm not trying to bust your balls, I'm just telling you what's been my real world experiences (the way you are going about audio sounds like a disaster waiting to happen). And the last thing I want to see is you to spend all this time and money on this project and end up w/little more than a big hole in your wallet.

    Oh, and I'm not sure if it's been mentioned yet or not but you'll want some wide angle adaptors in your camera bag as well.


    Lethal
     
  20. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #20
    I appreciate your advice. But I've always noticed you've got somewhat of an attitude, and it's not appreciated. You do have some good things to share on MR concerning video, but I really wish it was a little more personable.

    I think there are more factors than you understand with imposing another person on this village, that extend beyond the large cost. I may not have explained them all, but bringing another person is just not really an option. Now that this is established, what kind of setup should I look for within this budget? The shotgun mic that i described is one I already own, and i've factored an additional into the budget. Should this be a wider range, or an omni-directional? Does anyone know of any exquisitely good shock mounts to isolate camera noise?

    Thanks, thanks.

    EDIT: I was actually thinking about wide-angle adaptors today. Necessary, you think? How wide does the built in lens go?
     
  21. sturigdson macrumors regular

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    #21
    pdpfilms-

    Just wanted to say that this thread has become, for me as an observer, something of a gold nugget- I definitely am being a parasite with all of this new found knowledge! so... thanks!

    As for sound- can't come up with a good shockmount right now- so I'm not much help. If you can get a lav for interviews, that'd be ideal, obviously, but if you can get a good mic position with the boom, you'll have more than enough.

    Again, good luck with this project.
     
  22. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    #22
    I just don't want to see people make the same mistakes I've made and/or the same mistakes that have been made on projects that I've been on. No attitude meant, I offer my opinion (typically along w/examples of why I have that opinion) and we might go back and fourth about it for a couple of posts, but after that I'll drop it 'cause I just want to offer advice, not tell people what to do.

    For people asking about consumer stuff I do try to keep the kid gloves on when I post, but for people I tend to see as in my peer group (like yourself) I tend to leave them off 'cause they just get in the way. Blunt and qualified is the best way to go IMO (i.e. I think that's a bad idea and this is why). It's nothing personal, it's just more efficient. And if you think I'm coming off as an ass feel free to say, "Lethal, yer coming off as a know-it-all jack ass because of X, Y, and Z." :D


    All I was going on was the info you provided (which was budgetary constraints). If another person on the shoot would be problematic w/the locals that's a complete different ball of wax. And if you woulda said it sooner it would have saved us both some typing. :)

    If you can only afford one other mic I would get a lav as it will make your life significantly easier when doing sit down and longer stand up interviews.
    As far as specific mics or shock mounts go I would check out the "now hear this" forum over at dvinfo.net. Dvinfo.net is another great forum to glean info from working pros.


    I do not know how wide the built in lens goes, but the majority (if not all) of the "reality" based work (news, reality shows, docs, behind-the-scene stuff, etc.,) I've been a part of used wide angle lens or wide angle adapters if a fixed lens camera was being used.


    Lethal
     
  23. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #23
    Thanks, lethal. I'm glad we're on the same page, and thanks for the new info. I should let you know that I value your input in these threads, it's been very helpful to me in the past.

    I'll hunt around some more, and I'll report back here for any 'parasites' as sturigdson so eloquently put it. :D
     
  24. pdpfilms thread starter macrumors 68020

    pdpfilms

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    #24
    EDIT: Double post. Wasn't there a system in place a while back to prevent double posts?
     

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