In August, 2018, I wrote about the process of building up my videography kit. Starting with my very first video on The Gaspee Affair, that post details how I started with a cell phone and a couple of apps trying to find exciting cultural history and present it in ways that anyone could recreate.
That blog leaves off with the completion of Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution–my first feature-length documentary, which was published to DVD and wound up paying for all of my investments up to that point, as well as a camera upgrade.
This post picks up from there. I’m going to keep it minimally jargonny, with the exception of model numbers for the different bits of equipment I talk about.
I didn’t make a ton from DVD sales, although with each screening, a few more trickle in, and I’ve started getting speaking fees from the venues that screen the film. It isn’t “much,” but “much” is relative. Everything up until the end of 2018 was paid for in its entirety by Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution.
Which is kind of impressive, seeing as how I didn’t set out to make it, and I pieced it together as a narrative kind of on the fly. I also recorded all of the audio on my cell phone.
It was an intense learning process, and not one that I’ve found many ready-made explanations for getting around. But I took what I learned and looked toward making things easier going forward.
And the first thing I needed was better audio. What I’d produced so far wasn’t necessarily bad, but I lacked a certain amount of control. Again…I was putting a lot of pressure on my phone to be multi tasking. I was recording on a device which served as my life line and GPS, and on top of it I was recording without a microphone.
And on top of THAT, I was exporting the audio into Dropbox, and then downloading it to my computer. Just too many things that I felt were affecting the quality of what I was creating. Wasn’t bad, but could be better.
So since this thing was starting to pay for itself, I started to invest more. I bought two entry-level digital audio recorders. And with them, I also bought two lavalier (lapel) microphones.
I decided to get two popular entry level recorders–the Zoom H1, and the Tascam DR-05. They’re around the same price point (about $75), both take micro SD cards, and have pretty much the same capabilities, but with different layout.
The Zoom is incredibly compact, which is nice on bike. I also like the protective cage over the mics. This helped when an interview subject accidentally kicked a microphone I had recording and set aside from where we were initially working.
The Tascam has much larger screen and larger controls. It feels sturdier because it’s just physically larger. I prefer handing this one to interview subjects as well, both because the size fits well in a pocket, and the interface is also more intuitive in the event they need to make some kind of adjustment.
With the recorders, I got two different lavalier mics–the Sony ECM-CS3, and the ECM- CS10. The CS3 is their entry level dynamic lavalier mic, and I believe it’s discontinued. The CS10 is their entry level lavalier condenser mic.
Why? Well…just to play around with different combinations of microphones and recorders and see what works best.
I’ve noticed a few things. Without an external mic, both recorders are effectively identical in sound quality. My videos introducing the specific fields of anthropology use them, and most interview subjects were not using an external microphone because we were usually in an office or some closed setting that was quiet enough for me to trust them.
For example, the audio in my intro to archaeology video is recorded with the Zoom H1. On bike, I’m miked using the CS3. Dr. Morenon is recorded using the H1, with no external microphone.
In An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology, I used the Tascam DR-05. While cycling I am using the CS3 mic. Dr. Goodwin Gomez is not using an external mic during her interview, and it sounds fantastic.
An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology was a bit different. Dr. Kaspin is wearing the ECM-CS10 microphone and being recorded on the DR-05. Condenser microphones are noted for being more sensitive and reproducing more accurate, clean sound in noisier environments. I found that while Dr. Kaspin’s voice was clear, and that it did a good job cutting out background noise…it was also very quiet. I had to boost it considerably.
Condenser microphones require external power, and both of my recorders provide it, so I know it wasn’t that (I tested it turning off the power to the mic, and it sounded really awful). They are more directionally oriented, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with it.
They’re both excellent microphones, and I’ll use them both plenty going forward. The CS3 is just more “plug and play” with fewer variables to consider.
For what I’m doing, I can’t imagine needing higher end products, although I can see myself needing more than two at some point in the future.
The video end of my kit also was due for an upgrade. My Sony action cam is wonderful and I’m still in love with it. But it has a HUGE angle. I think it’s 161 degrees. Hold your arms out like you’re about to give someone a big hug. That’s how wide the recording is.
Great outside. Obnoxious inside. Useless for interviews.
So first, I picked up a low end Polaroid camcorder–the id995HD.
The picture quality isn’t horrible, honestly. But you have very little control over the focus, you have to be more careful with lighting than I always have the option of being…and (deal breaker) it records 15 frames per second.
Most videos are recorded at 30 frames per second. To reproduce a “film look,” many people record at 24.
My Sony records at 30.
Why does this matter? Well, in editing video, you set the frame rate of a project. If I select 30 frames per second, this thing is going to play at a weird speed. I would have to play the video while recording it simultaneously with QuickTime to convert it to 30fps so that I could work with it.
Too much of a headache. Great little camera for home video, too many steps for what I’m going.
And so I upgraded yet again, very quickly, to the Nikon D3400. And this thing is awesome. The stock lens (18-55mm) is great for most settings. I also got a second lens, called a 50mm prime lens. It means there’s no zoom. It is what it is. I chose this because it closely mimics the field of vision of the human eye.
The above picture was taken using the stock lens.
There is total control over all the settings you could ever want to play with. I have a few qualms, but nothing I have an actual issue with. I’ll be using this camera for years.
I picked up two camera stabilizers as well. You can get ones like the one pictured above for like $20 on eBay. I am very happy with it. I can mount my camera, an audio recorder and an external microphone on it and have a great control panel right in front of me, with enough weight to it to smooth out unsteady hands.
Another thing I picked up is a camera drone. I film myself, so I want as much versatility as possible. So I got the Yuneec Breeze 4k. It’s small, easy to use, and focused on the camera, rather than the fanciness of the drone. If you check out the reshoot of my video on the Gaspee Affair, you’ll see some aerial video taken with it.
In addition to cool aerial shots, it can be programmed to do things like fly out and back, follow me, and orbit me.
But beyond versatile equipment is knowing what to do with what you produce. I’m still using the free version of Lightworks, and you’ll see that as I’ve made more videos, I’ve gotten a lot better with the software.
I’ve also started playing with the free version of DaVinci Resolve at the suggestion of people in forums, and while I won’t be using it for the bulk of my editing, for cleaning up video it’s excellent.
I’ll leave you off with one example from the production of Scrimshaw. I interviewed Dr. Akeia Benard, the curator of social history at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Some last minute technical errors had me panicking internally, and when we finally got going on take 2, I didn’t double check my focus. The result was a video that wasn’t bad (ok it was bad), but was still usable…meaning I wasn’t about to call her up and say we had to do it all over again.
Side note–This is with the 50mm prime lens. The image is usually crystal clear, but this is an example of the frame of the shot itself. No zoom unless you wanna walk the camera.
Using Resolve, I was able to clean it up considerably:
I have invested a bit more since, which I’ll be detailing in a future post, once it makes sense to and all the equipment has been used thoroughly (or at all) in projects yet to be filmed.
I hope you’ve found this useful! In total the upgrades here cost me around $700. Not bad considering what I’m producing using it. Also not bad considering Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution paid for literally all of it.
Reach out to me via comments here or the contact form if you want to know more about specific bits of equipment or if you have questions on what you should focus on for your own work. I’m not an expert on this stuff yet, but I’m pretty handy, and a lot of the stuff I’ve found gives 95% extraneous information. I hope I can cut through it and get directly to what works for me and why.