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angelinthesky
06-10-2005, 11:22 AM
Hi everyone,
I was about to buy a dvx100a to shoot ethnographic documentaries but realized, reading the entries in this forum, that it may not be the best option in low-light situations. I'll be shooting in developing countries where the natural light outside is Tropical and people's houses can be very dark even during the day. I'll be doing all by myself and do not want to worry about carrying and setting up a light kit (the most I can do is film, interview, and handle an external mic at the same time), also, I'll hardly use a tripod and was thinking that probably a camera with a shoulder pad may be easier to handle when running after people. I'm trained as an anthropologist and have little experience on filming, so any tips on cameras would be very welcomed. Thanks!

discs of tron
06-10-2005, 12:18 PM
okay, this isn't meant to sound flippant or in any way disrespectful, and i'm certainly not trying to question your abilities. however, have you considered getting someone to shoot the thing for you? i have a good friend who is a documentary newbie, and she was able to get a pretty good (young) shooter to dp a project she made in mexico for plane fare and room/board. and room/board was modest since it meant staying with one of the familys that were the picture's subject, and food is cheap there.

anyhow, her project came out much better than it would have had she tried to be a one-woman show. having a real d.p. really freed her up to direct the thing- interviews, planning, etc- everything that makes up "directing" in the doc world. it's damn near impossible to shoot video and record good sound at the same time, let alone worry about trying to interact with strangers, plan setups, be aware of one's surroundings, etc. after some years i've gotten pretty good at doing this kind of one-person crew interview stuff, but it almost always means putting the camera on sticks, setting up the shot, checking for good levels, etc, before rolling. it doesn't lend itself to a more mobile, chasing-after-people mode of production. one thing that works well for some people is having the director be the sound recordist, with the mic and headphones, and letting the camera person just be a cameraperson. nick broomfield (who, btw, makes work i detest-he is the documentary equivalent of an ambulance-chaser,) works this way, as do a lot of others.

anyhow, sorry for that- i should probably address your actual question at some point. the sony vx2000/2100 and pd170 (basically the same thing+ xlr's and better tape) are probably the best 3 chip dv cams in the dvx pricerange when it comes to low light. they're pretty nice, but they're not as nice as the dvx overall. one thing the dvx has going for it is better sound on its mic inputs, which will make a big difference, especially if you're not using an external mixer. sound is soooo important for this kindof stuff i don't think its importance can be overstated. but that's a whole different thread.

also, i'd consider trying to find some kind of small light. i know you want to be mobile but even some little thing you can stick on a miniature tripod on a table in the corner could really be a lifesaver. when i can't do a real kit i'll bring this little lowell thing ( i-light? i think.) when i was super broke i achieved good results with those $7 clip-on hardware store things with the aluminum reflector that kind of looks like a big metal cereal bowl. you get one of those and a couple 250 watt daylight-balanced photofloods at a camera store. it costs you $20, you can stick it anywhere the little clampy-thing will grab, if it gets broken or lost no biggie, and, judiciously placed, it can make the difference between a crap scene and a decent one. also, a real must is one of those collapsible reflectors. they're made by photoflex. they fold up into a frisbee-sized disc, and when you pull it out of its case its a big circle 4 feet in diameter (they come in different sizes, as well as reflective coverings.) i'd get one thats white on one side and maybe silver on the other. "tropical" light is often contrasty light, meaning really dark shadows. add to this that we're probably talking about darker skin tones, and video's inherent tendency to be contrasty (compared to film or our eyes for instance,) and you could potentially be in a world of shadow trouble. one of those discs on a stand, or even gaffer-taped to a tree or something can really help if you're doing natural light stuff. in fact i'd go so far as to say i wouldn't do an extended natural light shoot without one.

okay, that's what i got for now. i hope some of it is of some help. good luck with your project.

skart82
06-16-2005, 09:07 PM
Hi everyone,
I was about to buy a dvx100a to shoot ethnographic documentaries but realized, reading the entries in this forum, that it may not be the best option in low-light situations. I'll be shooting in developing countries where the natural light outside is Tropical and people's houses can be very dark even during the day. I'll be doing all by myself and do not want to worry about carrying and setting up a light kit (the most I can do is film, interview, and handle an external mic at the same time), also, I'll hardly use a tripod and was thinking that probably a camera with a shoulder pad may be easier to handle when running after people. I'm trained as an anthropologist and have little experience on filming, so any tips on cameras would be very welcomed. Thanks!


Hello,

I ve been interested by your thread. I m actually also train(still training actually) more as an anthropologist, even though i ve studied cinema before. I totally agree with what the last post said...it s really hard to do an interview(furthermore on your fieldwork) shoot, and do the sound at the same time ! But,... i know what are the consequences of having somebody else with you on your fieldwork and i understand you might one to stay alone. I had the chance to do a documentary not a long time ago and to have a friend of mine(who was also train as an anthropologist-filmmaker); it was incredibly helpful, and i would suggest you do the same if you can find somebody. The person with you will be more than an technical-assistant it might become another consistant point of view...often really helpful and needed in anthropology.

All that said,... if you decide to be alone, it s possible..., assuming you re not hoping to broadcast your work since it s almost impossible to do a "good enough work" for that purpose alone(believe me i m still trying hard...and it's still my biggest "inside debate"...i.e. be an anthropologist of a filmmaker...for now i m still both). Anyway, if you decide so... i think in the price range of the dvx100, the vx-2100 would be a better choice for a documentary; furthermore if you don t use additionnal lighting. That said...use a tripod as most as you can or, at least, a monopod while your moving(steadycam would be the best...MacDougall use that since a long time as an ethnographic-filmmaker...even with a heavy film camera).
If you don t want to spend that much money you can go for the DVC30(panasonic) which is a nice small camera that would deliver what you need and might be much easier to carry around(i m about to buy one for myself...i used to sell camera for a while and it s most probably the more interesting camera in that price range).

I wish you the best luck for your project; i m pretty sure you will get by with the camera you decide to buy, just take the time to know the camera before to go on your fieldwork and remember that a film made alone is never perfect...which doesn t mean it can not be good and interesting for what it is!

BTW: go to the website of the FFEM(ethnographic film festival of montreal) 2005...i m one of the organizer: www.anthro.umontreal.ca/varia/ffem05

Have fun

Philippe Messier
skart82@yahoo.com

raciere
06-23-2005, 02:54 PM
great posts here. to add to the conversation, i took my canon xl1 to some VERY remote places nepal, india, uganda, guatemala... here is how i did it:

I built a little complete production kit using the porta brace backpack for the XL1. my requirement was that everything had to fit in this backpack... either inside, or strapped on. here is what i took:

- canon xl1 with century .7x wide angle lens
- sennheiser lav mics
- 1 condenser mic
- 1 20ft xlr mic cable rolled up and stored beneath the camera
- car batt charger + regular battery charger w/ various int'l outlet adapters
- 7hr expedition batteries by http://www.zgc.com (THESE WERE AWESOME, LIFESAVERS) that i velcro'd on to the back of the XLR adapter i used.
- a bogen carbon fiber tripod... very light and i strapped it to the backpack
- a photoflex reflector
- headphones
- a few filters, spare batteries, tape, flashlight, knife, minidv tapes, pocket notebook

with all of this on my back i was able to take the entire kit as carry on luggage on planes, and go into incredibly remote places and capture gorgeous footage and decent interviews.

however i would echo what "discs of tron" said... if i had to do it over again i'd AT LEAST want a production assistant if not a real shooter. i mean, sure its easy to find an eager kid to hold a mic or whatever... but i came away from my first few trips with inconsistent sound. and it was really hard to set up all the gear AND run the interviews... i mean its doable, but its just so easy to miss something, and if you're travelling long distances, you can't exactly easily go back the next week to re-shoot. so getting things the first take is crucial.

also, i do wish i would of had some battery powered light for lower-light situations... in huts/tukols/rooms. that would of been helpful. and yes, especially in africa, the contrast was a HUGE problem. i wish i would of had one of the tiffen ultracontrast filters to help with the strong contrast. and i really didnt use the reflector that much... but i DO wish i would of had a contrast filter to help.

the shoulder mount of the canon xl1 was also really handy. i prefer a shoulder mount to non-shoulder mount cams. and in terms of being overtly noticed/stared at as a camera person in regions where most people have never seen a camera... even tho the xl1 "looks" bigger than the dvx100a i found that if you portrayed both confidence and respect, people would quickly take you and your camera for granted.

by the way, i am selling the canon xl-1 kit (2 wide angle lenses, lens extender, lots of other accessories, portabrace kit, etc...) for $2700 OBO. feel free to email sky@untamed.be for more info.

Sharp-Shooter
06-24-2005, 11:23 AM
I am social-cultural anthropologist as well as a filmmaker. From what I have read in your post, it sounds like you are a trained anthroplogist but may need to develop skills in filming and related. I would suggest you have somebody trained in both (filming and anthropology) with you, may be for one or two projects. That way you could learn on the field training in filming, at the same time it would be equally important to have somebody trained in both while you are in the field, doing this will not comprise on the initial projects you do. Once you are confident and learn the technical aspects of use the camera, you may go ahead with any of the cameras available. I use a DVX100AE and have used others as well, I am sure you shall do good with any of the 3 CCD cameras.

At present I am in India working on an independent project (carrying a DVX, lav mic, ME66, 2 - 5hr batteries, tripod - No light ) and shall be back in Canada soon. Keep in touch and Good Luck.

Sharp-Shooter
06-24-2005, 11:28 AM
I am social-cultural anthropologist as well as a filmmaker. From what I have read in your post, it sounds like you are a trained anthroplogist but may need to develop skills in filming and related. I would suggest you have somebody trained in both (filming and anthropology) with you, may be for one or two projects. That way you could learn on the field training in filming, at the same time it would be equally important to have somebody trained in both while you are in the field, doing this will not comprise on the initial projects you do. Once you are confident and learn the technical aspects of use the camera, you may go ahead with any of the cameras available. I use a DVX100AE and have used others as well, I am sure you shall do good with any of the 3 CCD cameras.

At present I am in India working on an independent project (carrying a DVX, lav mic, ME66, 2 - 5hr batteries, tripod - No light ) and shall be back in Canada soon. Keep in touch and Good Luck.

angelainthebluesky
01-13-2006, 06:23 PM
Hi!
Itís been a while since I started this thread and I apologize for returning to it sooo many months later! After Disc of Tronís message I decided not to buy the dvx and went instead for an ag-dvc30 (and was happy to see that Stark82 had recommended it). By the time I was ready to reply to Disc I had forgotten my password to enter the forum, asked to have it sent to me, it never did, time went by fast, I got busy looking for a job, going to Brazil, etc.., Anyway, sorry ?

Itís so good to see that there are some ethnographic filmmakers in this forum!!! Thank you Skart82 and Sharp-Shooter for your tips on this kind of filmmaking. Just to give you some info about myself: I got my PhD at Manchester University in Social Anthropology with media components. I attended the one-year course on VA from the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology in Manchester. It was great, but not enough time to really get good hand-on experience. I only made two student films and am eager to make others.

I agree with all of you that filming while also doing fieldwork is really hard. I would love to have someone assisting me and tried to convince my husband to follow me but he wouldnít have anything to do with leaving his job.

I now have a research/teaching fellowship from a university in the Northeast Region of Brazil, a job that I love. But only now Iím getting closer to doing some filming, and still no one to came along. Iím going to be doing some filming with an indigenous group that lives in the same region Iím and, hopefully, with a remnant community of African slaver who are in the process of having their land demarcated. The projects are all very exciting, but Iím pretty much on my own (unless I drag a eager student with me). I donít mind working with other people, I actually enjoy it. But it would have to be someone who knows what theyíre doing with the sound and/or camera and with the community. Tough call right now and without money.

So, Iím going to give it a go. What Iím taking is:
the dvc30
a Rode videomic mounted on the camera handle at the top (I heard itís not the best, but it was what I could afford)
a 5 hs and a 2 hs batteries
battery charger
lots of tapes (boy the good ones are expensive, but worth my cameraís health)
a monop and a tripod

Iíll probably need some filters, especially the ultracontrast that Raciere was talking about.

Knowing that right now Iím going to be doing this solo, would you recommend anything else? My budget is weak. My husband lost his job and what I make as a fellow in Brazil is good for there but peanuts for here, please just keep that in mind.

Thank you all,
Angela.

jbrandon
01-13-2006, 10:52 PM
This is a great thread! I'm in a similar boat, recent alum from U. of Notre Dame in with a degree in Sociology, a bit of field experience with 3ccd cam (producing a show about ND football...) and full of passion to go to developing nations and make films. My first projects are coming up soon 1) March & April I'm heading to rural Ghana, and 2) May & June rural Haiti.

I'm going to be a one-man-band in Ghana, but in Haiti will have some help. I'm kind of nervous about it after reading these posts, but have not been able to find anyone who can take the time off work to go with me. Gotta make it work.

dvxuser.com has been awesome in helping me compile a list of needed equipment. Here's what I have so far:

ē Panasonic AG-HT100G Hard Field Case
ē AG-LA7200G 16:9 Anamorphic lens adaptor
ē DVX 100a

And what I need to buy still (please give any feedback you have on this equipment!!)

ē Oktava MK012 microphone (i hear that this mic might make things a bit easier than using strictly a shotgun and lav mics)
ē Sennheiser MKH 416 (or is the MK66 easier for one person? I need mics that I can rely for over a month in rough conditions)
ē Paglight c6 (not sure about this yet, could this be a good solution for the lighting problems I will encounter indoors and in shadows?)
ē Photoflex disc
ē Lav mic (any suggestions?)

...I guess once I get the equipment figured out then I can worry about figuring out how to use the stuff as well as possible without much assistance - this is a leap of faith for sure, but I guess that's how stuff gets done!

Click on the photo below to learn more about my crazy project.

thanks a ton,
-Justin

p.s. Angela, do you have any samples online of stuff you've already shot?

versioncity1
01-14-2006, 06:10 AM
Interesting thread. just my ten bobs worth.........
I think for this sort of shooting (of which I've done) what is far more important than having this or that camera is taking a small portable light. Wether one camera can shoot at F1:4 or another at F2:0 or F2:8 is kind of irrelevant. if your up against it and fighting for exposure, having to stick the Gain up, and getting the most basic exposure then your image is going to look rubbish. For the sake of taking a cheap light you can get a decent shot.

jbrandon
01-14-2006, 10:50 AM
Any suggestions for an affordable light that runs on battery power (and runs for a long time)? There will be no electricity where I'm going, so a few times a week I'll have to go into town a few miles away and charge (which will be a day-long ordeal). Thanks for any tips.

skart82
01-14-2006, 12:11 PM
Hi again,

I'm glad to learn you took this route...dvc30 with a rode is actually the setting i m looking for myself(already have the rode videomic and a cheap pv-dv601(future back-up)...and i have access to a trv900 or a fx1). I just finish a documentary with the rode and it's REALLY good for that price(do some tests before you shoot).

Interesting to know your backgroung as well. We actually received some films from Granada at each year of the FFEM(the new program will be up soon: www.anthro.umontreal.ca/varia/ffem06:...look for it in 2-3 days). I'm actually only a future master student in visual anthropology myself(september; unless change) but i had the chance some stuff in the field during my BA. I also have the chance to be the assistant for the visual anthropology course that is given at the Universitť de Montrťal. Really good opportunity for me.

Would be intesresting to work with you on this project (possibly with 2 dvc30 ?),...i don t speak portugese or spanish though; and my fund are really low for the time being.

To answer your question;....you might want a bring a cleaning tape(you don t want your camera to start making drop-outs on the fieldwork with no solution whatsoever). The 'good tapes' are not actually better for the camera(even for the image quality), they might get you less drop-outs though. BUT, stick with one brand, that is really important.

You could also consider a (even really) cheap digital camera. Sometimes you may want to take some pics on your fieldwork instead of taking out your dvc30 with the (kind of) big rode videomic. Tha t would also be useful for editing purpose, furthermore if your alone and sometime your 'moving images' get too shaky while your making interview on the fly...(i personnaly always take some shoot with my old slr35mm; it also give another perspective...i.e. still in relation with moving pictures....

Lastly,...if your shooting an interview outdoor with harsh light and shadow(avoid 10h till 14h, if you can obviously) get a cheap and light diffusion white cardboard(that you can throw into your backpack). Tha would be useful to bring light(reflect) onto the visage of your subject(lighting the eyes a bit). You could also use that to reflect the outside available light that come from a window when you're inside.

BTW, if you can't have a small light on your shoe(since you have the rode mic there...) in extreme low light condition, the dvc30 could give you a not so bad B&W infrared image. Even though a movie with those images is not always desire,...it could be really useful if there's just no other option.

I would also shoot 60i... that should give you more lowlight capability and you can always convert to 30p after in post if you prefer progressive images at the end.

Best of luck in your project. Keep us post about it.

Regards,

Philippe Messier
messier_phil@yahoo.ca

angelainthebluesky
01-14-2006, 11:25 PM
Hi guys!
Versioncity1, I have indeed considered taking a small light, but Iím not to sure about it yet. I believe that after my first trip to the field with the camera Iíll know better if Iíll really need one in future visits. (If my English reads strange itís because Portuguese is my first language).

Philippe, thank you for your reply! I went to the FFEM website and it looks great. Iíll send my film to you when itís finished and see if it makes into the festival ?
Some of the student films from the Granada Centre are really good. Itís a pretty relaxed atmosphere and it attracts all sorts of characters. I had fun there. Itís been quite a while though.

Iím very interested in collaborating in these kinds of projects, for sure. Having two cameras would be great. We need good funding, or think about some kind of university exchange program in the future (where are you going to do your masters?). Letís keep it in mind. In any case, I have to do it on my on for now because both situations are quite delicate, involving claims for land that are in the hands of very influent local people. Thatís why my equipment has to be compact.

I do have a cleaning tape that I forgot to mention. I got the Panasonic DMV63MQ tapes. People said theyíre easier on the cameraís head. Iím going to get my camera addicted to expensive tapes. Itís like feeding a cat gourmet cat food. A small digital camera is a grand idea and Iíll try to get a cheap collapsible reflector and a contrast filter as well. Gosh it all adds up, doesnít it? I thought all Iíd need besides the camera was an on camera mic.

I will be happy to keep you posted. Will probably be back here with many other questions.
Thanks again,
Angela.