DSLR video kit overview

Whilst I try to reference the kit I have used where relevant I don’t think I’ve ever devoted a blog post simply to describing the kit I used for a specific project. However, the world of DSLR video is so new to me I am finding it useful to keep notes of the whole process to look back upon later.

Disclaimer: I am not a videographer but a (very much) first-time DSLR video shooter recording my experiences from this, my first project, in my blog.

For the video segments I have shot so far (introductory scene and scene 2) I’ve used the Nikon D800E with a 24-70 f2.8 lens mounted on an old Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod with a Manfrotto 701HDV Professional Mini Fluid Video Head which had been languishing upstairs for over four years according to my Amazon account. I’ve no idea why I bought it but am pleased to have it now.  The clip below is an initial idea for the opening sequence – I probably won’t use it for this project although it may well be used in a future video.

I also own a Nikon D750 and subsequent research suggests this is actually better for video than the D800E so for the next scenes I shoot (slated for 16th August) I am going to give the D750 a try.  The 055XPROB is an old favourite and whilst heavy (remember this whole project is being shot on foot) it gives me a good working height at full extension and also allows for me to use it reasonably close to ground level. The 701HDV head was a revelation. I’ve tried panning and tilting in the past with standard pan and tilt heads but the difference in ease of use and the smoothness of the pan from the dedicated video head is immense.  I’ve read reviews that describe this, now discontinued I believe, head as “buttery smooth” and totally understand what they mean.

I shot some test footage in the river with a handheld GoPro session video camera. The footage doesn’t look out of place when used as a short insert and I have some ideas to use this for future scenes. I am also going to dig out and charge up the Nikon Coolpix AW110 that I bought five years ago for a seaside holiday with the grandchildren to enable me to capture some stills from a different perspective.

For location and ambient sound I have used a RØDE VideoMic stereo on-camera microphone fitted to the camera hotshot and plugged into the camera.  This has proved adequate for the footage I’ve shot so far however I am also conscious that the pre-amps in DSLRs are not the best and so I’ve done a lot of research; copious reading and countless YouTube videos. After a lot of internal debate and deliberation I have ordered a TASCAM DR60D-MKII portable recorder which will considerably improve the audio quality and give me a good platform for future projects. The battery life is inferior to the Zoom series I am reading  but the Tascam is built with DSLR shooters in mind and looks far more intuitive to use for me than the Zoom equivalent I also considered.

For the voiceover I am currently using the Zoom H2n portable recorder which I’ve owned for some time now. I have previously used it to capture ambient sound for slideshows and narration for the video diaries I produced when studying.  It has built in microphones but for the voiceover for this project I’ve been using an old microphone that I probably bought in Tandy around fourteen years ago for a school project of one of my daughters.  It works but upon reflection I can’t say I’m totally happy with the quality; usable but could be a lot better I think*. I’m currently looking at the Samson Q2U USB/XLR microphone which has some great reviews and is reasonably priced too.  I will probably order that today and I strongly suspect that I will re-record all of the voice-overs before the end of the project – more on that in a future post I’m sure.

The H2n fits easily in the hand and is readily pocketable so can also be used to capture ambient sound for which I usually mount it on a mini tripod. I used this approach to record the audio of my footsteps on the doorstep and the door closing in the introductory scene for example. Given its portability it would make an ideal travel recorder for the traveller who wants to cut down on the size and weight of their kit.

Summary of kit used to date:

  • Nikon D800E/Nikon D750 (video and stills)
  • Nikkor 24-70 f2.8 lens
  • Fuji X-T10 (stills)
  • Fujinon 35mm f1.4 lens
  • Canon EOS M3 (stills) [I no longer have this camera]
  • GoPro Session
  • Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod
  • Manfrotto 701HDV fluid head
  • Manfrotto mini tripod
  • Rode VideoMic
  • Zoom H2n

I read somewhere that your first video will be shocking so just get it done and move on. I thought it rather negative when I first read it but given everything I’ve learnt already I can see more than a couple of grains of truth in this sentiment.

* No names, no pack drill but I saw one of these for sale on eBay recently and the seller had asked for “£5 or if you live close enough to me a pint of beer …”

Baby steps with audio

I mentioned in my last post that I have taken the plunge and started to work on my first ever DSLR video. My plan was to shoot, edit and produce the second segment of the planned video over the course of the last two days as a way of better understanding how each part of the process impacts the next. I have just finished this segment and the strategy paid dividends as I have learnt a lot and captured the learning on paper – real paper not the virtual kind!

This post captures the learnings with regard to audio, in particular to recording the narration. As part of my preparation I have been researching the various aspects of DSLR video making and it is every bit as involved as I’d imagined.  One factor that comes up time and time again though is audio; the quality of your audio can make or break a video.

Applying some of this research I used an external microphone to record directly to the cameras memory card whilst capturing the video footage rather than use the onboard microphone. Ideally I’d have an external device but I’m trying to work with what I have rather than investing in more kit.  A so-called dead cat on the microphone reduced wind noise and I was left with very usable ambient noise which I ran at reduced volume underneath all of the video elements of the final 55 second segment (above).

Following some further research this evening into synchronising sound I am in future going to record ambient sound with the microphone plugged into a stand alone recorder and not the camera. To be fair, the live-action audio requirements for this segment were very undemanding so part from the experience of attaching the microphone and adjusting levels there was little to be learned from this experience. Unlike recording the narration which did throw up some very useful pointers.

  • Building on the experience in the field I spent time getting the levels correctly adjusted before recording the voice over audio and it proved to be time well spent
  • I used a script and this proved invaluable in avoiding pregnant pauses and the inevitable “Uumms” and “Aaahhs” that I have realised pepper my day to day speech
  • With hindsight I should have recorded each of the narrative segments at the same time. Differences in background noise meant that the third clip, which I recorded separately from the first two, had a slightly different tone. The use of a script makes this easy to achieve too
  • Allow the recorder to run for a few seconds before starting to speak. This provides a useful clip of the background noise which can be used later when cleaning up the audio
  • After recording the first clip play it back using headphones to double-check the levels are correctly set
  • Take the clips into audio software (I used Audacity) for noise reduction and trimming to size ready for importing to the video project
  • When saving the clips use an appropriate name to make it easier to find when editing the video. Tracks labelled “zoom0003” are not particularly helpful. I used the first couple of words from each clip as a file name – e.g. “At first”, “Despite this”
  • Make a note of these file names against your script to make it much easier to select the correct one later.

Now, it has to be remembered that I only used 3 voice-over clips for this segment of the video so I’ve not tested my thoughts on a longer piece of work. However, I see no reason why this methodical approach shouldn’t also work with larger projects.

All in all I was very pleased with what I have learnt over the last 48 hours and I’m sure it is just the first small part of a much larger learning experience over the coming months.



My shoulders hurt!

Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration but I took the D800E out yesterday and boy did I notice the weight difference compared to my Fuji kit.

I took a shoulder bag with the D800E and 24-70 f2.8 lens, a GoPro Session, mini tripod, Rode microphone, polariser and spare batteries. That’s all. Compared to what I’ve got used to recently it weighed a ton. I was also carrying an ancient Manfrotto tripod which was having its first public appearance for a couple of years.

I walked down to a spot on the River Calder close to my home to record footage for a current project. Yes. Moving footage – video! Moi!  I am working on a video entitled “My Patch” which will feature four or five locations that I regularly visit with a camera all of which are within walking distance of my front door. It will be my first foray into the video world and I am filming,narrating and processing the footage as well as overseeing all aspects of the production.

This trip was to film the footage for chapter two of the planned video which concerns said spot on the River Calder.  It was also an opportunity to test an idea I have for incorporating some GoPro footage (see below) into the final video.

I am currently putting together Chapter 2 and will post that on my blog later today I hope. My intention is to take Chapter 2 from planning, through filming, post production and finishing touches over the course of the weekend in order to gain the learnings for the other parts of the video.

Watch this space!


Birch Trees and Limestone

I took the Hasselblad with me to the Isle of Skye recently and this weekend I developed the black & white film before retiring to the darkroom to print a couple of frames.

It’s been three weeks since I printed owing to the trip away and other domestic duties and I was keen to get in the darkroom to try the Fotospeed RCVC Oyster paper I bought recently.  It proved to be an excellent choice of paper and I was very pleased with the outcome.

© Dave Whenham
Birch trees on limestone outcrop Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster

My favourite from the first roll out of the Hasselblad was taken on the road to Elgol showing a small group of birch trees  on a limestone outcrop. There was a lingering mist and scudding clouds so it was not ideal weather nor light but I was keen to capture the atmosphere and the roll of FP4+ made the Hasselblad the perfect tool for the job.

The paper is a variable contrast paper, something I never used back in the 1970s, and my initial test print was printed on an equivalent grade of 2½ which rendered the cloud and mist very nicely. After producing the envisaged print (above) I then experimented with a harder grade which made a dramatic difference to the foreground and even accentuated a narrow band of light falling at the foot of a distant mountain.

© Dave Whenham
Hasselblad 80mm lens FP4+ Fotospeed Oyster RCVC All 4 secs 0-90-0 Sky + 19 secs 0-30-0 5mins in Kodak selenium toner

Memories (of Milk & Alcohol)

There’s been a lot written recently about the demise of printing and the irony that in a world that produces more images a day than in whole decades past we have less printed artefacts for future generations. It’s one of the reasons I print family photographs. In a world where memories are evoked by a computer-generated prompt on Facebook saying “remember this from 1 year ago?” I sometimes like to think back even further and my suitcase full of family snaps does just that.

Recently I was talking to someone about my early days in the darkroom and recalling how I used to attend “gigs” and take photographs and then rushed home with the roll of Tri-X (sometimes two if feeling flush) to develop the film, hurriedly dry it and produce some basic black and white prints to sell at school the next day to raise funds for the next roll of film. It’s a shame that entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stay with me but that’s another story.

Spooky therefore to find what is probably the only remaining sleeve of negatives from those heady days when clearing room recently to install a darkroom.  They are badly underexposed but the negatives themselves are in good condition, testament to my developing skills back in the day I hope. The film stock is Kodak Tri-X and from memory it is likely to have been rated at 800 ISO or even higher so it is not surprising that it is a little grainy. The camera would have been a Zenith E with a 50mm f1.8 lens, not the sharpest combination in the world and as I’d have been using the lens wide open a little softness can be expected – even on those not affected by camera shake!

© Dave Whenham
The Inmates, supporting Dr Feelgood – 1st June 1979.  Scan of 2015 darkroom print

I printed one of the negatives last night and it provoked a pleasant trip down memory lane for both myself and my wife (then my girlfriend) who claims that it was my idea of a birthday present for her in those days. A charge I refute absolutely of course.

Back to the Darkroom

My enlarger arrives Monday. I’ve finally progressed in my photography sufficiently to go back to the darkroom – this time with a Hasselblad 500CN and a Mamiya RB67.

© Dave Whenham
Lake of Mentieth, Scotland.
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fujichrome Velvia 100

Now that is not something I was expecting to be writing even as recently as 27th September. However, on the 28th, and courtesy of my wife, I achieved a long-held ambition and became the proud owner of a Hasselblad film camera.  Just two weeks earlier I’d been contemplating selling my Mamiya which has languished unused in a box on my bookcase for at least four years.

There is a saying the when life throws you a lemon then you should make lemonade; so applying the same principle, and in short, I am going to shoot film again after many years of being exclusively digital. Over the last weekend I spent a few days in Snowdonia with members of the Postal Photographic Club some of whom still shoot film, a couple exclusively. Chatting to them over dinner one evening I realised that if I’m going to do this then I may as well do it properly so have spent the last few days creating a space in which to establish a permanent darkroom. More on that in a future post.

Whilst clearing out though I found an envelope of negatives and transparencies dating from 2009-2011 and couldn’t resist scanning some of them.  The results exceeded my expectations and I shall be printing some of them (digitally) later to then compare with a darkroom print once I’ve got the equipment set-up and the chemicals have arrived from the suppliers.

© Dave Whenham
Marlborough Downs, Wiltshire.
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Ilford XP2 Super
© Dave Whenham
Imperial War Museum, Salford
Camera: Mamiya RB67
Film: Fuji Neopan 400

Over the weekend I shot four rolls of 120 roll film using the Hasselblad (48 pictures in total) and one roll of 35mm film (36 pictures) using a Pentax ME camera I’ve owned for a while and never previously used. On getting home I found two rolls of exposed 35mm film in a drawer and on inspecting the film magazines for the Mamiya found that one had two frames remaining and the other had four. In total I sent nine films off for developing last week and I’m eagerly awaiting their return. Once I’m happy that the camera is functioning properly I will start to develop my own films again but I want to remove that variable at this stage of the process; I need to know the cameras function properly without wondering if any failures were down to my processing.  I’ve since found two more part-exposed 35mm films in a Canon A1 and Canon EOS 650 which I’ve finished and will use for my first foray into home developing since the mid-1980’s.

So, watch this space and in the meantime here’s a few more scanned images.

© Dave Whenham
Camera: Pentax 645
Film: Fuji Acros 100
© Dave Whenham
Amanda – who started this all! c.1982
Camera: Canon AE1
Film: Agfachrome

I mentioned at the top that I felt I’d progressed enough to return to the darkroom – at least I hope I have!