In talking with Daniel Klein (Vimeo, web) of the Perennial Plate (@perennialplate on twitter) about recording audio with dSLRs, I resolved that I would write a post about the gear setup I’m currently using. I’ve been shooting a lot of events lately, which probably influences what gear I have. This is definitely not an exhaustive list (nor extensively detailed), but more of a conversation starter to the greater picture of work flow and video image & audio paths. I’ve definitely taken cues from Stillmotion, the internationally acclaimed cinema+photography team, based out of Toronto & SF. Here’s their gear post: stuff (Patrick uses a Red Epic now, but the post is definitely still relevant for most of us.. red epic:dream camera). Another definite influence is Bjørn Rørslett, a Norwegian nature photographer, with a massive lense review section: site
My setup, as of September 2012:
Camera: Nikon D800
A recent addition, it brings full-frame HD video to the arsenal. As well as an increase to 20+ minutes recording time (the 7d firmware update was supposed to bring the recording time to 29:59, but it hasn’t worked). It’s also a stills backup for the D700. Shot a wedding recently and having the 14-24mm f/2.8 mounted on the D800 gets some pretty dramatic views.
Camera: Canon 7d
I’ve been shooting with Nikon SLRs since my dad’s F2. When we went to Churchill, Manitoba in the fall 2009 to see polar bears in the wild, I wanted to shoot some dSLR video. At the time, Nikon had no full HD options and the 5d MKII had already begun changing the world. If I had known that I would be seriously into video, I probably would have picked the Mark II (for the full frame vs 1.6x crop with the 7d). With the release of the 7d, it gave dedicated recording controls, the 24p that I was looking for and pretty good high ISO results. There are quite a few options now and even the T3i line will get you solid results. Nikon is still playing catch-up, but at least the d7000 has 1080/24p now.
Occasional/Backup Camera: Panasonic AF100
I’m on the lookout for another camera for multiple angles & backup. The Canon 1Dx looks tempting but a bit pricey for me. I’ve been borrowing the AF100 from my friend Eugene (@yougenius73). It’s definitely a video camera with similar imagery to dSLRs. With XLR ins built in and a ton of functionality such has focus & zebra indicators, this is definitely more convenient and all-in one package vs dSLRs. It has dual SD card slots. It can record very long clips vs the 7d limitation of 12 minutes. One major downside is it’s 2x crop factor. May not work for some who already have lenses, but there’s single digit mm range zooms (eg 7-14mm f/4) out now for micro 4/3 systems. Also has a max of iso 3200.
Nikon Lens to Canon Mount Adapter Rings
Because I have a reasonable amount of Nikon F-mount primes, I use cheapo F-mount to Canon EF rings like these: ebay. With the G Lenses (mainly zooms for me), you can’t manually control the aperture so I’ve been using the version 2.0 of this adapter: (current versions now made in collaboration with Novoflex) 16:9 Nikon G Adapter
Before the dSLR craze, I picked up a lot of manual Nikon primes from eBay and other outlets quite inexpensively. I’ll list the most commonly used lenses first as well as zooms.
Nikon AF-S 14-24mm ED
Many consider this to be the finest wide angle zoom lens ever made. Many Canon still shooters will even sacrifice auto-focus with adapters to use it. My current favorite on the shoulder rig and steadicam for most shots. The only downside for some (mainly still shooters, aside from the speed) is the lack of ability to use screw on or drop in filters. By adding a matte box, there is a fairly easy work around.
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8
This lense is my generic go-to lense on the 7d. When I don’t have a rig with me, the 28mm is usually mounted, especially for stills. I usually use this for “medium close up”/upper half body framing. Thanks to S. Hung for the long-term borrow!
Nikon 50mm (multiple)
I have a variety of 50mm lenses such as the AFS f/1.4, as well as manual gems like the f/2 AIS and pancake f/1.8. These are very compact lenses and have really solid imaging with good speed.
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 Ver 1
One of my favorite lenses to use while shooting shoulder-up shots. Some are critical of it’s vignetting while on FX, but on the 7d, no-problemo.
Nikon 105mm f/2.5 AIS
When I don’t have a tripod or want to go fairly mobile, it’s my telephoto lense of choice.
Cinevate Durus Follow Focus
Cinevate is a cinema design company based out of Thunder Bay, Ontario and make a lot of well thought out and “tank” like gear. Their follow focus is CNC machined (on of my side hobbies) out of aluminum and has no cheap plastic parts (especially in the gear box like some other companies). It has virtually no backlash and pairs with either 15mm or 19mm rail systems using a single clamp to mount. I bought it as the “Spartan” package, which comes with 15mm rails+blocks.
CA Vision shoulder rig RSA1580D-SPE
Another borrowed item from Eugene, this is a great tool when you have don’t have the luxury of tripods and want the documentary/field look. I’ve used this at many events and it can look really smooth in terms of motion. With my recent purchase of the Durus Follow focus, I’m going to be moving away from the CA Vision and I’m only a shoulder mount away from having an interchangeable and quick release system to go from a shoulder rig to Steadicam, which would be ideal in fast changing events. My only complaint is that the tightening isn’t always perfect and can get a little loose.
Tiffen/Steadicam’s entry level vest/arm/sled offering is one of the most versatile tools in the kit, especially for solo shooters like me. Paired with a wide angle like the Nikon 14-24mm, you can create pretty dramatic pans and get a very movie like feel and very stable shots. Just a note that this can only support rigs that are 2-10lbs on top of the sled. If you upgrade to a slightly higher model, you can support a bigger system, but some note the quality of the vest improves vastly, something important on long shoots.
If you have a dSLR and shoot video, you’re probably aware of the “ugly” auto-gain function (AGC) of the 5d, 7d and others. Because there isn’t any manual gain control, the AGC basically cranks up the gain with low input levels (along with some ugly baseline noise) and lowers the gain during loud passages. The DXA-SLR was created to “trick” the camera via a 20khz constant tone. This works most of the time, although the level indicators are quite coarse (I’m used to dB level readings of some sort). The major weakness of this audio chain is that the 7d files have compression on the audio. This is where the Zoom steps in. Btw, it uses a 9V battery which lasts long enough for most projects/events.
Will write a bit more later, but my dedicated audio recording device. Only shortcoming is the battery life, although it sounds like many units like this are similar. Will probably make a dedicated battery pack for it.
As you can see, the rig starts getting unwieldy with all these accessories and various batteries that are needed. I’ve made a box with a variable DC in, with varying outputs, such as 12V, 5V, 7.3V (adjustable to power the 7d)
Sennheiser G2 EW100
Wish List (really too long to list):
Nikon 24mm f/1.4 – have rented, absolute must in ultra low light.
Cinevate Cyclops or Zacuto Z-finder
f/1.2 and f/1.4 primes or the new cinema lenses from Canon (Nikon, where art thou?)
Battery system similar to Anton Bauer