For Christmas 2011 I shot and edited a video to showcase the Sky Go Movies Express, a chartered train from Euston to Birmingham themed to a variety of films showing over the Christmas period and offering competition winners a chance to watch some of their favourite films on the go. Shooting alone and with only an hour and a half’s journey to capture most of the shots, I then edited and uploaded the montage plus b-roll interviews for a deadline the following morning.
A fun but demanding job (shooting handheld on an old train isn’t for the faint hearted) which called for the rather more user friendly EX1 rather than my usual 7D rig.
Hot on the heels of the intense post about multi-skilling comes this little gem about geeky new technology. Some would say I’ve changed, others would claim that I always had it in me. Yes I might earn more hits blogging about Richard Keys and Andy Gray, but an old boss once advised me to keep my opinions about people in the industry close to my chest and on this occasion I’m going to follow his advice.
So I have a confession to make: since last summer I’ve been having an affair. With a hard piece of black plastic. It may sound like a Channel 5 documentary but this goes somewhat deeper and I’m hoping it’ll last the course. It has certainly cost me a lot of money, there’s an argument that it may have taken its toll on my marriage (I can’t go anywhere now without bringing it along…the plastic, not the wife) and on many occasions I’ve felt inadequate right after getting it out.
The object of my affection is called HDSLR, and more specifically to me, Canon 7D. If you’re in a relationship with one, especially if you make your own videos, you’ll know what I’m about to say, and frankly there are many who say it better, but if this is news to you, it may be worth reading on.
If you read the last blog or indeed my biography you’ll know that over the last few years I’ve picked up cameras. At Channelbee we used the Sony EX1 or 3
which was a great starter as it’s really user-friendly and you get decent results for minimum effort. When I started out on my own last year I was always going to buy kit and I was heading the same way, but I wouldn’t have got much change out of £10k once I’d bought camera, tripod, mics and lights. And perhaps most importantly I probably wouldn’t have learned anything new. Then early last summer my brother, who’s a news documentary maker at the BBC, told me about a new trend for film-makers using stills cameras…and I was off on a new journey. I saw the beautiful footage people were shooting, read the blogs (links below) and took the plunge. Since then I’ve probably forked out a similar amount to what I would have done for an EX3 kit, but I think I’ve got a lot more to show for it and I believe that my skills have improved because of it, which has to be good for business in the long run.
I’ll keep the geekiness to a minimum because again others do it better and this isn’t about that, but yes, the gist of it is that some stills cameras now shoot superb video. Apparently they were originally designed to cater for news journalists who wanted to be able to grab quick video clips in the field, but since then the boundaries really have been pushed. House shot an entire episode on one (5D Mark II), a 7D-shot film has just been bought from Sundance by Paramount, and if you know what to look for you’ll see music videos, commercials and just about anything else shot on them.
The 7D is a mid-range Canon
and will set you back about £1200 without lens, but you can pick up a 60D for a lot less and your video quality will be the same. There are plenty of choices in terms of video DSLRs out there but the key to their appeal is the size of the sensor inside, which is larger than in most mid-range video cameras and therefore gives you more flexibility with light. Add to this the fact that you can pick and choose your lenses (which is the norm in the film world, and offers more creative flexibility in terms of depth of field)
rather than being stuck with the lens you’re given, and you can start to see why they’re changing the game. Then think about their size, the fact that you can shoot without anyone noticing, and you’re probably sold. And for afters, something which has been a real revelation to me is the genuinely supportive community which has sprung up in the HDSLR world; I wouldn’t have known where to start without the likes of Philip Bloom, Vincent Laforet, Shane Hurlbut and El Skid who share their expertise and opinions freely, in some cases to an extent where they have become worldwide ambassadors for the movement. I can’t think of a similar community existing in tv and it has come as a truly welcome surprise.
For all their virtues, however, shooting with an HDSLR doesn’t come easy. They’re not designed to be held like a video camera so you need to stabilise them somehow, the sound recorded is practically useless so you have to record that separately, you are limited to clip lengths of around 10 minutes, and there are some more techy issues too which I won’t bore you with. By overcoming these hurdles, most serious HDSLR shooters end up with weird and wonderful Heath-Robinsonesque rigs surrounding the actual camera; this is what I’ve based mine on, for example:
The other side issue of the limitations of HDSLR shooting is that you learn a lot more about how moving pictures (and stills, naturally), are put together. I mentioned earlier that it’s possible to pick up a modern video camera, even a prosumer one, push the red auto button and shoot away but with these it pays to learn the basics of aperture, ISO, shutter speed before you even attempt to master the rest. So it’s a steep learning curve, and as a perfectionist it’s an unsettling experience comparing yourself with very experienced cinematographers, but it’s certainly rewarding. I’m not using my 7D on every shoot, sometimes it’s just not practical, but I’m using it enough to warrant having bought it and I’m not looking back. Looking forwards, the big hitters have already cottoned on to the huge uptake in video DSLR and they’re now building the more attractive features of HDSLR cameras into their new video camera releases so where the future lies I don’t know.
So that’s my new mistress out in the open. I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s an example of my 7D in action at the recent ‘No Trousers’ day. It’s a good example to choose because it showcases the positive in that I was able to film on the tube without attracting attention (or getting permission) and the negative because as I was forced to shoot without any support, some of the shots are a tad wobbly:
It’s been a while. Far too long, but I’ve had a few months of solid work and haven’t had the energy to keep this up. It’s a poor show and defeats the object of starting the site in the first place but I’ve had to forego forward planning in order to meet all my deadlines. I will catch up though and will try to do a blog covering recent jobs but restarting where I mean to go on, this is what I was up to on Sunday.
The England captain took a trip back to his boyhood club, Eltham Town
to promote e-on’s ‘Energy Fit’ campaign, in particular their ‘Club Makeover’ competition which is offering amateur football clubs the chance to get an energy saving makeover worth around £40k. The e-on team decked out the club’s facilities with swanky stuff like solar panels, energy saving lights and even hot water, and Rio was given a tour before hitting the mud and coaching the young pups outside.
I have to say I didn’t know much about the club beforehand but I was really impressed with their setup, fancy lights or no fancy lights, and I couldn’t help thinking that the national game can’t be in that bad a state if there are clubs like Eltham Town around.
We then had a quick chat with Rio
about the e-on project and the France game, where he revealed that he can’t contemplate losing because of the stick he’d get from Evra when he returned to training. It was the second time I’ve interviewed him in 6 months and although he clearly didn’t remember me, Rio was professional as ever. I’m a big fan of his because he’s clearly got more in his locker than booting a ball around and I genuinely believe he cares about the projects he gets involved with.
An unexpected bonus of the day was catching up with old Soccer AM and Channelbee mucker Fenners in his new capacity as tv personality, complete with showbiz scarf. Always good to see him and I’m so happy he’s back in the Sky fold as on-screen talent. I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t seen his new show Take It Like A Fan yet but I’ve only just signed up to Sky Sports again; must do that this week.
I’m editing the bits and pieces today so I’ll post a link when they’re up.
Quick one this; I’m on a train most of the way up to Darlo with 50 minutes of battery remaining on my Mac. Boo North East trains for not having plug sockets on your trains.
So this week I’m doing a pretty hectic but hopefully fruitful job; I’m the embedded cameraman/editor for the England 2018 team, tasked with documenting the movements of the FIFA Inspection Team. The schedule is pretty hectic although I haven’t been involved in the London visits today; yesterday was Downing Street for the official welcome from Nick Clegg
and other opening speeches from the delegation. First time in Downing Street but to be honest I was so concerned with getting the shoot right I didn’t have time to nose around. Good location though; really central, handy for work.
Then it was a hop onto the Jubilee line up to Wembley Park, editing on the way. Hardcore. I was there at the station to pick up the delegation as they arrived behind me; they then were taken on a tour of Wembley with Fabio amongst others in attendance
The organising committee did a great job of getting a load of local kids in to welcome the delegation and kick a few balls around on the pitch; I was impressed so I hope that rubs off on the honoured guests! Again a whistlestop tour round the place, then onto Altitude for the evening soiree. Canapes, champagne and entertainment (including Boris Johnson speech) for the invited; a laptop and Final Cut Pro for me. Managed to get B-roll footage of Wembley and Downing Street ready for upload to journalists/news agencies who couldn’t cover it, although such is the life of a digital producer that one of the encodes crashed part way through meaning I’m writing this now on 3 hours’ sleep. Onwards and upwards; Boro very shortly and then a very big day tomorrow….more on that soon.
Techwise, I’m shooting this week on Sony PMW EX1; when you get it right it’s a really fast workflow for decent quality.