Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s

Last week was incredibly stressful. I had been dealing with obtaining visas – a somewhat monumental task of which I had no control over, in preparation for my upcoming project Opening Our Eyes, that will literally take me around the world.

On one of my many trips to New York City, I went to B&H and purchased some gear I needed for the Opening Our Eyes documentary that I will be shooting. The gear I bought included – Canon 5D and Canon 7D cameras with extra batteries, (2) 16 GB Sandisk Extreme compact flash cards (I’ll need more), Manfrotto 190CX3 light weight carbon fiber tripod with the Manfrotto 701 fluid head (I needed a small tripod and head that will fit in a backpack),  Samson Zoom H4N digital audio recorder, 2 GB Sandisk SD card for audio, recorder, Rode Shotgun mic with “dead cat”, Delvcam Camera Mount Adaptor (this attaches to bottom of H4N Zoom recorder giving it a hot shoe plate), Rycote Hot Shoe Extension/Extender (this attaches to the hot shoe on the top of the camera giving you extra room for devices – for me, the H4N Zoom recorder and a shock mount for the Rode mic) an adaptor so I can hardwire my Tram lav to the Zoom digital recorder, XLR cords of various lengths, and a couple of Rugged Lacie portable hard drives (500GB)

This weekend, I decided to familiarize myself with the new gear and do some testing. I was looking forward to getting back to my “purpose” for the trip and leave the administrative nightmares behind. I am not a shopper, nor am I a gadget freak. I buy new equipment when I have a need for it as opposed to because it exists. There’s something to be said about sticking with gear that you are comfortable with so that you can concentrate solely on the creative, but because of the pace of technology we are somewhat forced to keep current with our tools.

Whenever I add a new tool to my bag of tricks – I go through a process. First experiencing the thrill of something brand new in my hands. When I first took the Samson H4N Zoom out if it’s little coffin like plastic case and held it in my hands it was a sensual experience because of its design and what they make it out of. The second phase of the “new gear process” is reading the manuals and figuring out how things work. With the Zoom this was a bit frustrating and I am one who is already familiar with audio devices, so I can only imagine the frustration for someone who is not audio savvy. It’s such a sophisticated little mixer with so many choices that it took some time getting used to it. After much testing I settled on the 4Channel mode.

Over the weekend I tested both the Canon 5D and 7D cameras, recording sound with their internal mics as well as with a shotgun mic on camera plugged directly into the camera with an XLR to mini plug cord. I also tested both cameras, recording the audio separately through the H4N Zoom using the shotgun on the camera, and with the shotgun on a boom closer to the subject. Then I tested my Tram mic hard wired into the recorder and finally I did a test with the Tram and shotgun mics recorded on separate tracks on the Zoom.

After the tests, I brought both the video and audio files into Final Cut Pro. I had also purchased Philip Blooms 7D tutorial and in the workflow section he mentions how sluggish and problematic it is to work with the H264 files that come directly out of the camera. He recommends converting the files to Apple Pro Res LT either using compressor or MPEG StreamClip which is faster. I tried it both ways and he’s right the MPEG StreamClip is much faster. After I converted the files into Apple Pro Res LT, I imported them into Final Cut along with the WAV audio files. Incidentally, I shot everything at 24 frames a second and recorded the audio as WAV files at 48KHZ. In addition, I recorded sound through the camera, even though I was capturing my audio with an independent device. I knew I would use it as a reference when syncing the sound in post. My next step was to sync the audio files with the video/audio files coming from the camera. I used a clapper when recording so syncing was pretty easy. Philip Bloom mention using a software called PluralEyes for help with syncing audio and video in post but I have not yet purchased it. I did find out that you need to keep good organizational notes when shooting so that you can easily match up the audio files with the camera files later on. I decided that I like using the 4Channel mode with the digital recorder and using two external mics along with the stereo pair on the recorder. In post I can uncheck “stereo pair” and work on each channel independently.

So after a weekend of playing with the new gear, I went through the gamut of emotions from the thrill of newness to the incredible frustration of learning something new before the light bulb goes off. It will take a while to get to the third phase of the “new gear process” and that’s becoming very comfortable with the tools. And I can almost guarantee when that comfortable feeling start to happen, there will be something new that I’ll need to buy.

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4 Replies to “Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s”

  1. Hi Gail

    Great tips. You answered a question I had about getting the H4N and shotgun mounted together. i suppose a concern is how much can the camera hot shoe hold. I remember well the old days when hot shoes would crack and break. Any idea as to how sturdy the 5d/7d hot shoes are?

    Are you using the built in mic for capturing sound with the camera?

    We are two of those people who are not so “audio savvy” trying to decipher the H4N manual. Any tips?

    1. That’s a great question. I think that using the extender/extension on top of the camera might distribute the weight a bit better – but the shockmount and mic barely weigh much at all and the Zoom is fairly light weight. I have experimented with a mic into both the 5D and 7D using the mini plug – not great. And the built in mic is pretty mush useless for any decent audio. Maybe you can pick up some ambient sound if you are in close – but I will only use the camera’s audio as a reference for syncing later in post. Tips for the zoom – I like it in 4channel mode – gives you the stereo mic pair one two channels and then you have two more channels. I used a shotgun in one and a lav in another as a back up.

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