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by Rick Gershon, updated July 2012
There are a myriad of options out there right now when it comes to tools for multimedia storytelling. The combination of tools you use can be your greatest strength or your greatest weakness. The important thing is to find the right combination of gear that fits your style of shooting and allows you to tell the best story possible. Below is a list of tools that we may use a combination of on any given multimedia shoot. Again the importance is to find what combination works best for you.
Multimedia tools are constantly evolving. There are many options on the market from which you can mix and match to best suit your needs. The following describes our current field production kit.
To learn more about what's in Rick's gear kit and how he's using it in the field, see the Interview with MediaStorm Producer Rick Gershon on our blog.
The Canon 5D Mark II and now the 5D Mark III and similar HDSLR's are some of the most revolutionary storytelling tools to date. Not only are they phenomenal SLR's in their own right, they also allow you to shoot full resolution HD (1080p) video on a 35mm sensor with 35mm lenses; something only previously possible in high-end, very expensive cameras like the Varicam or Red.
At MediaStorm we carry two of the Canon 5D Mark III's and a number of different lenses.
**note-the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 lens is a staple for still photography but is not suited for shooting video on the 5D Mark II. The super wide angle on the full frame sensor distorts the image badly and it really shows up in video, much more than in a still image. The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is a wonderful lens for shooting video as it does not distort and also provides a good range of zoom for switching from a wide to tight shot. The only downside is it is a bit on the large side.
As great as these cameras are there are a number of limitations they present. It's important to familiarize yourself with this camera and it's limitations before attempting to use it in the field.
HDSLR AUDIO RECORDING
The biggest limitation to these cameras is the quality of audio they record. Unfortunately when it comes to great multimedia, sound is paramount and can really make or break a story.
We recommend that you never rely on the internal audio recording on these cameras and instead use either an external microphone adapter or record your audio separately on an entirely different device.
For the highest possible quality of audio we recommend that you record your audio separate on a device like the Zoom H4N or the Marantz PMD661. This can be a real challenge for someone who is new to multimedia as it is one more device to bring into the field. It's also a challenge to sync your video and audio in post. Nevertheless, at the moment, it is the best way to record top quality audio with the HDSLR's.
If you are uncomfortable recording your audio on a separate device or don't want to deal with the complexity of syncing your audio with your video in post, you can use an XLR adapter like the juicedLink. The quality of audio these adapters record is not as high as the external audio recorders and there is quite a bit of noise the device creates in the file. They also aren't built as well and break easily. But they are still a better option than relying on the internal microphone as they allow you to attach high end professional microphones.
For both of the methods above you will need a combination of professional quality XLR microphones. We like to use a combination of a shotgun mic and wireless lavalier kit. It is also a good idea to have a back up hard line lav mic for those occasions when your wireless kit runs out of batteries or experiences interference. A wind sock for your shotgun mic and an XLR cable will also be necessary.
If you can't employ either of the methods above, as a last resort you can use a compact shotgun mic designed for these cameras. Again we only recommend this as a last resort as they do not produce the quality that the above options do.
None of these are fool proof methods and each present their own set of challenges but they are the best options until a new device is released that combines the amazing video quality these cameras shoot with great audio recording.
HD VIDEO CAMERAS
Before the introduction of the HDSLR's, HD video cameras were the prime method for recording video for multimedia productions. These cameras can still be a great asset in your arsenal of multimedia tools. Some of these cameras can be much more user friendly than the HDSLR's and one of the biggest benefits is they record top quality, XLR audio that is automatically synced with your video.
There are lots of options when it comes to a great HD video camera. Here are a few that we have worked with and would recommend.
Keep in mind these are tapeless cameras that record to various different types of solid state cards. Although they are slowly becoming antiquated, cameras that record to HDV tape are still available.
**note-the above mentioned professional quality XLR microphones will also be usable on these cameras. As with the HDSLR's I would not recommend relying on the built in microphone on the HD video cameras.
There are countless accessories on the market that can be used to enhance your multimedia storytelling. Here are a few that we recommend:
A good tripod is essential to shooting good video. The most important thing when considering a tripod is a good quality fluid head and a built in leveler. We use and recommend the Sachtler FSB-8T. I also recommend carbon fiber sticks but the key is to find sticks that you are comfortable using and can be deployed quickly.
Headphones are an absolute must for multimedia reporting and should be used at all times. Sony and Sennheiser both make great models. Whatever you choose just make sure to not get a model that offers noise cancelling.
A good set of neutral density filters is also very valuable when shooting with the HDSLR's. For most the appeal of the HDSLR is the very shallow depth of field that can be achieved by shooting wide open with 35mm lenses. This can be challenging in the bright of day as video needs to be shot at around 1/50 of a second. Different strength neutral density filters can help keep the shutter speed at 1/50 while shooting with a large aperture.
**note these are screw on filters and must match the size of lens you plan on using. It is recommended that you get a kit for each different sized lens you plan on working with.
You should never have to worry about space while shooting, therefore we recommend travelling with multiple, large memory cards when shooting with the HDSLR's. It is also a good idea to get the fastest write speed you can find.
HD video files take up a lot of space. Therefore we always travel with plenty of hard drive space and always back up our content while in the field. There are plenty of cheap options when it comes to hard drives but the extra expense it takes to get a fast, reliable hard drive is well worth it. We always carry at least two of the 5400rpm, 500GB G DRIVES.
One of the drawbacks to shooting video with the HDSLR's, especially if you were accustomed to shooting video with a traditional HD video camera, is that the HDSLR's simply don't feel like a video camera. They are small and light and are therefore very difficult to keep stable and focus at the same time. Every little movement of your hands is transferred to the camera and that translates to shaky video. There are lots of companies that make support rigs for these cameras but in our opinion the best are Red Rock Micro and Zacuto. Both are great and are, unfortunately, relatively expensive. But they can really be a great asset if you are serious about getting steady, professional looking video. Again the key here is to find something that you are comfortable with and that doesn't get in the way of your shooting.
A good lighting kit can also be very valuable, especially when doing interviews. The important thing for us is that a light kit be portable and quick to set up and take down. Lowel makes a great portable light kit and Zylight makes a phenomenal light that can work both as an on camera light, and can be put on a stand for interviews. The Zylight also has adjustable color temperature.
Another downside to the HDSLR's is that the on board LCD monitors are fixed to the back of the camera and are not high enough resolution to really determine critical focus when using very shallow depth of field. An external monitor, while being big and bulky, can be a big help with focus and shooting at angles where the in camera monitor is not viewable.
Finally a good bag made for multimedia gear can be really helpful. Think Tank Photo has a really great multimedia series.