I always wanted to do one of those talking dog videos…
I always wanted to do one of those talking dog videos…
I wasn’t going to share this public at first, but just watched it recently and thought I would for an interesting reason.
I follow a lot of video groups on FB and Linked in.
One thing that comes up a lot–and I do understand it–is requests for what is the best stabiliser. Frankly, there are some new fantastic ones out there, and one day I might even buy one. But it’s low on my list and may never happen.
The most recent request asked if the expensive ones were better. My reply was along the lines…”yes”.
That said, back in my day of using a Steadicam, they cost something around $30,000. Maybe they still do. A cheaper alternative at the time (the 90s) was the Glidecam. I used that too. The Steadicam was way better.
So even though prices are down, you get what you pay for.
But do you really need one?
Depends what you do, of course, but my view is that technology isn’t there to correct bad camerawork. And that seems to be the inspiration behind some of these posts. “What’s the best stabiliser?” “What’s the best post stabilisation program that’s free?”
Nothing beats good camera work to begin with. That takes time and practice. In this age of technology, some people seem to think it’s there to solve their inadequacies. I beg to differ.
Anyway, if you’ve read my book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Loner Shooter’s Survival Guide, you’ll know that I follow the ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to equipment.
I have 3 small cameras. All Sony. The NX30, X70 and RX10ii.
In this video I had the NX30 along, the oldest of the three.
I bought it because of it’s stabilisation technology. I didn’t want another bag with more kit requiring more time to set up. I wanted a camera that was a wingman for run and gun work. Something that would let me keep my attention on the job, not on the equipment.
I never use tripods, except for sit down interview. Never. And for the same reason.
So, it follows, everything in this video is hand-held.
Would anyone notice?
Beyond that, it may have no interest for most viewers. It’s a family video that only means something to those involved. My wife is French (she’s the one trying to get the others to dance at the end of the video), and what you are seeing here is the beginning of the move from the last family home in Saint Saens, France. All the others are long gone. This is the last one, and this is the last walk through the garden by father and daughter, a father who inherited the house decades past and spent all those years carrying on the stewardship of a house that was in the family for 300 years.
I only started shooting clips over the last two days there, so had little to choose from. The song was played on our last evening there (in the scene where they are all drinking calvados), so copyright issues aside, that was obviously the one to use. Made for an easy edit too.
Most of the shots were candid, except where they obviously knew I was there.
Yea, one shot is through a dirty window, but what I captured there was priceless.
The girls cried and cried. Watched it several more times and cried even more. (That’s a good thing).
Moral of the story: Quit worrying about your equipment and get your attention out there capturing things that matter to people and clients.
(as a note, the one weakness of the NX30 is lack of ND filters, and thus some difficulty in rendering details in bright exteriors)
I’m still in Chongqing China and have been shooting a lot of fascinating footage–mainly with my trusty little Sony HXR NX30 because it’s so small and light to carry around.
I’ve decided that what I’ll do with the footage is a new video which is part travelogue and part commentary on run and gun camerawork since everything I’m doing is hand-held.
I’m often asked about how I do camerwork, so I thought a lot of interesting footage–often in difficult circumstances (such as small streets and alleys filled with thousands of jostling people) would be a good way to talk about run and gun camerwork.
If we get the time, Laury will take my X70 and shoot me shooting with the NX30. That should be interesting.
The main reason I’m here, though, is to document my wife’s production of a number of bronze commissions and particularly the in-progress Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown statue for which we will produce a new fundraising video to raise the balance of funds needed to cast it in bronze and ship it back to England—so that may have to come first.
In any case, I think I’ll get to this new video sometime in the next 3 weeks. I really looking forward to it.
For anyone interested, I did a short, crude test for my step-daughter who is planning on doing a short film that takes place wholly inside a car.
As it is a low budget film and even though she has access to a Red camera, I pointed out that due to the profile (length) of the Red, it wouldn’t be possible to do internal frontal mounting of the camera–or if so, due to its lens proximity to the actor, would require a wide angle lens.
I did a short test using the NX30 in full-auto using its Active mode stabilisation (which uses image processing in addition to its gyro stabilised lens).
Normally car scenes are shot with speed rail mounted cameras outside the car. (or they are shot static with green screen backgrounds). Because of the open window, car scenes are post-lip-synced which is quite an art and not all actors can do easily–especially children as would be in this case.
So I put the NX30 to the challenge.
I shot it in my Landrover 300tdi Discovery (1997) and recorded the audio with a Sony wireless lapel.
I wasn’t expecting great results on the sound (it would be better with direction microphones hand-held on booms from the back seat, but as mentioned in the video, even the lapel would have worked pretty good in a quiet car like the high-end Range Rovers or equivalent.
The camera was mounted on the dash on a guerrilla tripod and wired down. Nothing fancy. A suction mount to the windshield would have been better but I didn’t have one. (could get one for about £40 to do the job).
Turns out it did ok.
So here’s a low budget solution to shooting interior car scenes.
Note: While shot in full HD, this is a 720p upload. Try to watch it in at least that. This is the raw camera footage, untreated in post. (the filter tests at the end were done because my step-daughter wanted a ‘filmic look’, so I tried a couple of filters toward that end)
Almost done with the ebook “Run ‘N Gun Videography–the Sole Shooter’s Survival Guide”. Looks like it will be about 42,000 words in about 25 chapters. A few weeks ago I published the introduction here.
I won’t publish all the chapters on the blog, but here’s Chapter 1 (first draft) for your perusal:
What does that mean anyway?
Funny enough, if you look this up you’ll find it’s a term used in the video gaming industry. As the name implies, it’s a rather brash and unconsidered approach to winning—sort of an AK47 approach to getting somewhere.
Speaking of guns, I’ve shot the AK47 and I must say it’s a gun that’s meant to be shot on full automatic in a spraying motion because it’s not very useful in single shot mode for hitting a target. The bloody thing is so nasty in its kickback that once you’ve fired it, you have no idea where the bullet just went–and you don’t care either because your ears are ringing so bad. (The US AR15 is much better on that score).
But I digress.
I doubt any of this is what anyone in the field of videography means when using the term.
For the purposes of this book, however, I thought I’d better define what I mean by the term, lest anyone start off with the wrong idea.
Since I have a gun theme going (for a bit of fun), it’s not an AK47 or AR15 approach either. More like a 38 police special (short barreled pistol) and you have to be pretty good to hit anything with that.
Let me couch it this way:
After years of working in the regimented, scripted approach to film and video production with production crews (nothing wrong with that), I became a video documentary director/cameraman. That meant I traveled around with a small team—usually one other person and sometimes two—to shoot short documentaries of people or events around the world. Because there was little time allotted for each production, and each production had a looming, unalterable deadline, it was necessary to develop a shooting style that was very direct and economical without compromising on quality. This also extended to kit, which I’ll detail in a later chapter. In short, I had to be quick on my feet and quick of wit while being as thorough as possible.
Despite the fact that these productions had scripted narration to be added later, my job was to produce material that would stand on its own without the need for narration. What dictated the content for me was the material obtained in the interviews I did with key people on the ground.
I learned some very important things early on about interviews. While this will also be the subject of a detailed chapter, it bears mentioning now that the most important thing I learned was that everyone has a story. Getting them to tell it is the trick. Part of the trick is to be willing to find out what the story is. And to do that you pretty much have to knock out of your head whatever you think the story might be (forget about the stupid interview questions) and just start engaging in normal human conversation.
Once you’ve go the story you have some idea of the B roll (relevant and related shots) you need to shoot so that the interview and/or greater story can be edited.
And that’s all there is to it basically.
It applies to documentaries, biographies and corporate videos alike.
Knowing what to shoot, how to see it and doing it quickly, professionally and thoroughly is “run ’n gun”.
By definition, “run ’n gun” will never be perfect. You’re bound to make mistakes. You’re bound to get home and find a shot out-of-focus or with any of an almost infinite number of potential technical flaws. But if you “shoot the hell out of it” in the process, and to the best of your ability, you will walk away with editable video footage that will achieve whatever its intended purpose was.
I always make the time to light important interviews and obtain the best sound possible. That doesn’t mean one could necessarily tell that the shots were lit because, in my case, I tend to employ “atmospheric lighting” which appears to be natural. But it looks a hell of a lot better than the “real world” looked.
On the other hand, it’s not always possible to light an interview, particularly “vox pox” (latin for “voice of the people” and meaning the “man-on the-street type interview). But in these cases one still tries to get the best possible lighting and camera angle possible.
Sound recording is another vital element. Using an on-camera mic (and the resultant high ambient sound levels) is the mark of an amateur. Close, present-sounding audio recording for any type of interview is vital – a fact which apparently many videographers do not give adequate importance to.
That said, there are unexpected circumstances when something is happening that simply can’t be stopped to allow proper microphone placement, so you’d be daft to not record it anyway with your on-camera mic. If the content turns out to be precious, the value of the content will over-ride the technical flaws.
And so it goes. It’s a constant exercise of judgment while seeking to obtain the best technical quality in the process under varying circumstances.
It takes practice.
It takes experience.
You have to be willing to learn from your mistakes.
You have to be pretty good to pull it off.
And that’s what I mean by “run ’n gun”
I’ve now used the NX30 in several productions including music and corporate.
Last week I completed an 8 minute fund-raising video in Los Angeles which I thought would be a good video to elaborate on the NX30s capabilities in “run and gun” production.
Rather than go into the subject of what I mean by “run and gun” at any great length here, I’ve decided to take that up separately in a later blog. But to be clear, it’s in this type of shooting that the camera shines. It’s a rather competent “wing man”.
This production “The Locke High School Project” was definitely run and gun. Despite requests for various things to be lined up in advance of my arrival, very little was planned. Some things that were planned were faulty in terms of permissions, and some things planned simply fell through. It was up to me to pull it all together in a relatively short period of time to accomplish the objective of a video capable of appealing to a particular prospective donor of parting with $2,550,000.
If you can, watch the video in Full HD in order to evaluate the performance of the NX30.
You can watch the video now if you’d like and then read the comments below, or visa versa (or watch it twice).
1) It starts off with a sunset beach scene. That wasn’t planned. That was an off-the-cuff solution to a celebrity endorser to introduce the video who wasn’t able to be scheduled due to other commitments. I didn’t want to have Sidney (the client making the appeal) to be bragging about his own accomplishments in order to position himself in the beginning of the video, but when the celebrity fell through and time had run out on my stay, I told him to grab his french horn and race down to the beach with me for sunset as a back-up to the original plan.
We got there in the last minute, and, as you can image, with no time for dilly-dallying, I just parked him on the sand and told him to start playing while I shot the footage.
If you’ve read my earlier blogs or seen any of the videos, you’ll know that I’m not a tripod or camera support system fan. In the old days working with crews, I’d have an assistant who took care of all that stuff giving me the time to plan angles and so forth. When you’re solo, and in a rush, there’s little time for all that. Plus it’s a pain in the backside to clean out all the sand off your equipment after a beach shoot.
That’s why I love the NX30. Those shots are all hand-held. Not a speck of sand on any of my equipment. But more than that, I could just turn the camera on in full intelligent auto mode and start shooting. It locked focus on the face and set its own exposure and colour balance. What you see there isn’t even altered in post.
2) The sit-down interview with Sidney was shot on a tripod (as were the later interview scenes) because even I’m not masochistic or stupid enough to hold the camera for a 30 minute interview.
But here again, look at the beautiful clarity of the image. No, it’s not that shallow depth-of-field DSLR look. But with nice lighting, composition and tonal separation, what difference does it make for the purpose? That’s a serious question. If it was shallow depth of field would it make it any better in terms of communication value?
I like shallow depth of field too. But that immediately taxes your attention that much more in terms of setting and maintaining focus. In this type of shooting, I’d much rather have more of my attention available for other things and not worrying about focus. Once I start that camera rolling, I’m no longer looking at the camera or the monitor. I’m chatting with the person. Nice to know the camera isn’t going to let that face go out-of-focus if he happens to shift or move.
3) Shooting in the school.
This video was almost a disaster. I knew it was vitally important to get permission to shoot and interview in the school which was on the list of things I required to have set up in advance of my arrival. When we got to the school we luckily got the athletic director to take us around. Here again, the little NX30 did not get a lot of attention due to its size. Could have been a different story with a larger “professional-looking” camera.
So what I did was tag along during the tour and just kept the camera running constantly. I had a radio mic on the athletic director and wore headphones so I could hear what they were talking about, but my main objective was to grab as much footage as I could.
Later we did the sit-down interview after which we stole over to the music department for about 40 minutes and obtained what the footage there on a similar basis.
Our time was up and we had to leave even though I wanted more. Interviews with sports students for example. But when it came time to go back to the school for that with fingers crossed, we ran head-on into the full bureaucracy of requiring written permissions based on submitting script, list of shots, video distribution plans, etc.
And since the marketing arm of the school would not be keen to show what needs to be shown in a FUND-RAISING video for the school’s inadequacies, I knew that road was closed. And we were out of time anyway.
So how did the NX30 perform? I had it in Active Mode, Full intelligent auto. None of those “steadicam shots” were processed in post. Even though one shoots that sort of shots in wide angle for obvious reasons, there’s still the chance that the camera will decide to focus on something stupid. But the NX30 was set to keep track of faces and I could see it boxing in the faces as I moved, so my confidence was high (and not let down) in terms of focus. Or exposure, for that matter.
Short anecdote: After we left the school for the second time without permission to shoot inside, I walked around outside to try to get a shot that showed a lot of students. Unfortunately the school was fenced like a prison. Nowhere in the entire circumference of the school was I able to see inside. Then, as I completed my walk around I noted an electric driveway gate opening. I stood ready, and as soon as the vehicle left and the gate started to close, I planted myself in the opening and grabbed a slow panning shot that showed a large group of students changing classes. I had one chance and only a few seconds. One shot. And the NX30 backed me up by taking care of all the technical details.
3) As I was leaving we got our hands on an old year book. I needed some historical shots. I used my Canon 600 to take stills of most of the shots I wanted out of the book (animating them in editing), but there are a couple of panning shots in there I did with the NX30 in Active Mode. That’s kind of difficult to do smoothly so close up, so in this case I further stabilised the shots in post to a very nice result.
In some of my earlier corporate productions (and on this one too), I would come home to find to my horror that some of my interview shots were soft on focus. It was both unnerving and baffling.
Then it happened on this production on the interviews with both the original music teacher and the current one. As I watched these interviews I could see the camera slowly drifting from foreground to background over and over. I had NO IDEA what caused this and thought I might have a camera fault to be fixed. (this is why the interview with the current music teacher starts with an unusually long amount of B roll before we actually see him talking. Likewise, near the end of the video the original music teacher is coming out of a dissolve which hides the moment when the shot is coming into focus and cuts to B roll just before it rolled out-of-focus)
The next day when I was setting up to do the interview with Sidney, I put the camera on the tripod and did what I usually do: shut off the stabilisation. As I did that I noticed something flash on the viewfinder screen. And a little notice came up that said something like “turn off intelligent auto”. I looked closer and saw that what had flashed on the screen was the little intelligent auto icon turning off (greying out; going inactive).
Ah ha! Intelligent auto only works in Active Mode! Makes sense too. That’s when you really need it.
So the lesson learned is: When shooting on a tripod with stabilisation turned off, you MUST set focus manually. You can either turn off auto-focus once it’s focused on the subject you want, or just turn it off and manually focus it on the subject.
Ok, that will be my last word on the NX30. Hope it helps any of you who are looking to buy a camera.
And thanks to the 50,000 of you who, at this writing, watched the 2 Part Sony HXR NX30 review making it the most watched and highly rated video review of the NX30 on the internet.
Yeah, I heard some of your complaints about it too and agree with you, so I’ll incorporate those points next time.
(hey, what do you know–this is my 50th blog post!)