In an effort to be more productive and stop skulking around the house I’ve decided to start making short films and upload them on YouTube. As a result I will be posting here about that process and linking the videos. What. A. Treat.
This past week the company Moment uploaded a review of the new Sony A1 camera. The review was made by the filmmaker Joshua Martin . He’s made a number of videos for Moment this past year and I’ve enjoyed his laid-back style. He started this review with a cinematic short film to demonstrate what the A1 is capable of. I enjoyed that greatly as most reviews are just a person sitting and talking at the camera.
I enjoyed the short so much that I stopped the video when that ended and found myself thinking about how I would like to make a similar video and the proceeded to daydream about what I would do for quite some time. The following day I had time to myself so I went out and shot two hours worth of footage and make my own version.
Once I had everything ingested into my computer I went through the footage and saw all the mistakes I had made. I shot near noon, which is never a good idea, but it was a sunny day. For portions of the video I was shooting handheld and moving the camera in front of my face and body. Shadows of the camera and mic kept playing on my face and chest, ruining the shots. There were a number of other mistakes I had made, forgotten shots, things being out of focus and it became obvious that I would have to reshoot most of the footage.
I spent the night brooding on this and thinking of how to improve the story I was telling while also adding new elements and not making mistakes. A number of firsts came out of this process, like making a shot list and mounting my gimbal onto a tripod for shots in my car and I am pleased with the results.
Did I get it all right? Not even close. I still forgot shots, misunderstood the placement of my camera and shot at a terrible time of day in unflattering light. As tempted as I was to redo everything again I didn’t, I worked with the footage and came up with what I think is a decent video. It’s not perfect but it’s done.
So this is part of my new plan, I hope to write more here that isn’t just about cameras or plugging my videos – in addition to making videos on a regular basis for YouTube. There is more certainly a stigma attached to doing such things and interestingly I am finding freedom in this particular act of self-publishing. There is an audience, not cost to the creator and absolute unchecked creativity in what is possible. It’s kind of amazing.
Please take a look and let me know what you think.
I don’t post here often. Mostly because writing is my profession and giving my work away does not make much sense. That being said not everything I write is meant for publication nor is it intended for a diary. So the challenge is to find pieces of writing that falls in-between these two categories – and is hopefully of interest to someone other than myself. What I post here are my attempts.
With that out of the way here is another post concerning filmmaking gear and my struggles to make sense of the no-budget world I inhabit. I shall try and imbue the following nonsense with some sort of value for others.
This past year I’ve tried to focus more on making things than thinking about how to make them. It’s lead to a few interesting projects and discoveries.
There have been more missteps than leaps forward but any progress is progress. The greatest trap of trying to do this on my own is spending more time “researching” or attempting to learn new skills rather than doing. Case in point:
One of the largest hurdles for me regarding filmmaking gear concerns stabilization. I don’t care much for shaky handheld footage in fiction. Usually it feels like the wrong choice. That being said the simplest and cheapest form of stabilization (using a tripod) often feels lifeless and distant. Which is why I looked into gimbals this year.
Many moons ago I tried using the Stradicam Merlin with a DVX100B. It was not for me. I found that after weeks of use and practice I could get a steady shot for about thirty seconds at a time. I could never get the camera to balance properly and holding the DVX100B with one arm was a feat I could do for maybe four minutes at a time.
I assumed the fault was with me. I wasn’t clever enough to balance it properly (the instructions were terrible) and I wasn’t strong enough to hold it for hours at a time because I don’t go to the gym. Simply put – I am not Garrett Brown (genius/strong man/inventor of the steadicam).
Flash-forward to this year and the pre-Christmas sale for the Moza Air. I decided to give stabilizers another shot and despite numerous YouTube videos demonstrating the ease with which you can balance the gimbal I found myself with another contraption I couldn’t balance and was left wondering if I am truly that inept.
Wherever the fault lies I returned the gimbal. Yet I still don’t like shaky handheld footage and I have an upcoming shoot where I need some sort of stabilization solution. So, what to do?
I feel foolish because I currently own three cameras (Sony A7S, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and an iPhone 7+) and only one has excellent in-camera stabilization. Yet, and this is forever my conundrum with filmmaking gear, I find myself not wanting to shoot with this option.
In part this is because the iPhone controls are vastly inferior to those of my other cameras. Both of my proper cameras can get a “better” image than the iPhone and allow for greater flexibility in post production regarding manipulating the image. There is also the sense of ridiculousness that comes from choosing my phone as my capture device when the more expensive cameras are in arms reach.
I need to shoot night interiors in a moving car and I know that the iPhone isn’t going to perform as well as the A7S, the low light is going to lead to very grainy footage – but it will have less rolling shutter and micro jitters even if I shoot handheld.
Assuming I go this route I have purchased two small off camera lights –
Only to find that they have their own set of problems. The Aputure light takes four batteries and most likely won’t make it through a full night of shooting without changing them out. I can solve that one! Both have a cold shoe mount. Meaning I can mount them to a camera but nothing else that I own. So having a light out of frame below the dashboard would require a small tripod and a camera body…which isn’t really a viable set up.
Searching through the selections of possible mount adapters on B&H is a bit daunting. First there is the basic problem of the Internet, everything has a generic name so that you spend more time sifting through detritus than you do looking at viable contenders (looking at you Apple Motion whenever I have attempted to find a tutorial).
Once you get through the dreck there are some inexpensive solutions like this clip mount-
I’ve no idea if it’s any good. So I need to purchase it (or something like it) then test it to see if works in a moving car. Never mind the fact that there are only so many places where I could put this.
So despite a good deal of searching and listening to those sharing their wisdom online my solution is still “buy it and try it”. I recognize that I am in this place because of my lack of firsthand knowledge and not having a group of likeminded people to bounce these ideas off from.
Nearly all of the advice dispensed at people who are, presumably, like me boils down to – find your tribe. Get that group of people that you can rely on to help you do this stuff. Which sounds great but I’ve no idea how that actually comes to be. Nearly everyone I’ve met in the past three years who is a filmmaker has no interest in watching a short film I’ve made, let alone discussing clamps to hold small lights. Perhaps there’s a secret handshake you need to learn first.
So I continue to share my ramblings here, now and then getting specific like this post, in the hope that someone out there might connect with the material or the sentiment. I’ve linked the items I’ve posted here to make it easier for anyone interested in checking these things out. I don’t have an affiliation with B&H Photo, I just use them to buy filmmaking equipment.
I recognize that after my last post regarding cameras that it would seem like there would be nothing more for me to say on the matter. Aren’t you lucky, there is!
I thought I would write a short post as a follow-up to my last since the conclusion I came to was anti-climatic. So, the short version: I kept the Sony A7S. Why?
The camera has many great features for controlling the image you capture.
It fulfilled my requirement of being both a stills and a video camera.
I have found the rolling shutter issues to not be bothersome.
The low light performance solves many problems for me.
I would like to finish with a few comments regarding point number four. When people talk about micro four-thirds cameras they love to mention that it is easier to achieve a deep depth of field when using those cameras. Meaning – it is easier to have large portions of your frame in focus when shooting video. Now in this age of shallow depth of field and bokeh in every shot you would think that this would not be a selling point. It is, sensibly, because there are times when you want to show more than a person’s eyes or the petals of a flower.
When people disparage full frame cameras they tend to make this argument, that it is much harder to have a deep depth of field and therefore all kinds of filmmaking are ill suited for these cameras. People praise the GH4 for being a wonderful documentary camera, which it very well may be, but in my very limited experience I have found a flaw with the argument that is being put forward.
The A7S does not need much light. As in you can shoot in conditions where there is a light source. Period. You can do this at apertures that give you a reasonable depth of field (i.e. f4 and the like) which allows you to follow a person around a dimly lit street. The GH4 is a very poor camera for low light situations, even when you use something like a speedbooster. So what I have found is this: I can shoot with the A7S in all situations, from mid-day in direct sunlight to at night with a full moon – and have most of the image in focus. I can do this by using ND filters during the day and using an aperture of f8 and I can do it at night by boosting my ISO. In both cases it is not a struggle to capture an image that is usable and attractive.
With cameras like the GH4 and the Blackmagic Pocket Camera this is not the case. During the day with plenty of light these cameras are wonderful. I find it easy to capture the images I want. When the lights go out, whether I am attempting to shoot video in my living room with three practical lights or outside shooting under street lights – I find myself shooting as wide as my lenses will go, boosting my ISO as high as it will allow and I still cannot get enough light.
So, for me, I have found that getting the footage I want, in focus, is easier under any conditions with the A7S. I make no claims to being an expert but I am sharing my findings in the hope that they will be of use to someone else. If you cannot get usable images because of too little light and you cannot add more light you are out of luck. Reducing light is relatively easy, considering you put a filter in front of your lens. Lighting up a street is nowhere near as simple or affordable. So if you are like me, working with limited means and on a budget, you may want to take this into consideration.