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Thread: Lots of ambition, an HG10 and a lot to learn

  1. #1

    Default Lots of ambition, an HG10 and a lot to learn

    I have decided I want to make documentaries and have bought an HG10 to learn the basics. I have a 15 year background in photography and have mainly specialized in documentary/reportage. For the past 3 years I have worked in theatre as a tour manager/line producer. My intention is to build a portfolio with the camera to further a career in broadcast.

    A primary influence on what I expect to be doing at the moment are some of the docs made for Dispatches in Iraq and Afganistan with a one-person crew. I'm not expecting to end up in a warzone soon but a low-key approach with minimum kit has always produced my favourite photographs. Many of these films lacked "production value" due to the extreme limitations of the situation - but they made up for it in grit. A secondary factor is that whilst I learn field sound, who wants to be my DP and whilst I futz with camera settings, who wants to op my sound?! Until I've nailed the basics, I'm a one woman show.

    So far, mainly I've learnt that I've a lot to learn - especially the necessity for grip that I became so good at avoiding with stills. I have also run into some limitations with equipment and would appreciate advice for a work around.

    My intention was to quickly add a shotgun mic, a wireless lav, a wide angle lens and a fluid head tripod to a pared down kit. The hood and filter holder were nabbed from a rarely used medium format outfit. Then I came slightly unstuck:

    First, sound:

    A major factor in the choice of camera was the mic in and phone out connectors. To my amazement, there is no gain control whatsoever on the camera which unless I'm mistaken reduces monitoring to an exercise in wearing oversized cans for the sake of it.

    It seems I've a couple of options, an under-camera mini mixer like the Beachtek or to record sound separately. Initially I was dead against separate sound as it would make slating everything necessary...I now wonder if this is totally true for close shooting where the on camera mic could still be used for scratch sound - and how much hassle it is in real world conditions anyhow. I do understand that the audio is as important as the footage.

    Second, lens/focus:

    Internet wisdom states that AF is only acceptable in "run and gun" situations because the jerky nature of it is distracting to viewers. The cringeworthy footage my father shot of us as kids on his Video 8 reinforces this belief in me and my stills experience was that AF on anything less than a pro camera was too unreliable to guarantee the shot in fast moving situations.

    The HG10 has "manual focus" in the form of a Kinder Surprise multicontroller. It can be set just fine in static situations where I can focus and then recompose. It provides hopeless feedback though and the "focus assist" is only any use when the subject is in the centre of the frame.

    When I was younger and shot SLRs I used to love fast lenses and selective focus but more recently, I've relied on hyperfocal focussing 90% of the time. The HG10 has no depth of field scale and whilst I could work one out, aperture info is only displayed in Av mode and I've found myself using Cine mode most of the time. I confess I have no idea what Cine mode is but it makes the mid range colours sing. Is there a way of using a hyperfocal type method of focusing here?

    Prior to purchase, I decided that a DOF adaptor was unnecessary for my needs as it would not add significance to the story for the most part. Partly since learning about the importance of B roll and establishing shots, my mind has changed though I still feel I could do without....however - if one would enable me more accurate focus in day to day stuff - with the lens at f8-11 my mind could be changed. I would build my own as the prices are extortionate!

    Finally - perhaps the silliest question - how do you practise and hone the skills needed? I understand that first I make some shorts and then I make something longer than then I win Sundance or something - but how do you practise cameracraft and sound in particular before you are confident to even make a short? With photography, it was easy - you went to your local high street and took pictures of people going about daily life. I quickly learnt to handle cameras confidently, defuse the occasional misunderstanding and perhaps more importantly that that, learn to do it in a manner where I was virtually unnoticed. This was helped by moving to rangefinder gear. A shotgun mic, even on a small camera, is about as subtle as a 300mm f2.8 and that's around the point where the public and worse, police start hassling.

    Thank you for your advice.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Blog Entries


    I would suggest approaching local clubs and societies. It sounds boring but doesn't have to be if you pick and chose what you're going to video. The thing is, a lot of clubs would love to have a dvd about their stuff but will never be able to afford a pro, or even a semi-pro.
    Doing short documentaries is a really uselful training ground and has a nice learning curve.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Bristol uk
    Blog Entries


    Auto focus, to auto or not to auto, as you say the net wisdom is no to auto, but I suspect this maxim is one that started at the pro end of the user base where lovely gnurly rings rule and many cams have no auto focus.

    My knee jerk answer would be the same - manual if you can and go hyper plus plus dof if you cant and are dodgling bullets. This is how I use my big pro cam with all it's lovely gnarly rings.

    However my other cam, my bullet doger, well its a different story - it's a tiny sony pc4 palm cam. Now this camera has a fous ring but using it is a bloody joke so I just go for auto. Like I said this is the run and hide camera so that appraoch suits the filimng i do with it. If i did use that cam for a set up interview carefully shot I would use manual everything, but it's raison d'etre is auto everything. TBH on the small sony the a focus does a better job than i can with that cam - the vf and screen are just hot high enpugh res to help accurate focussing. The hg 10 has a high res screen so at least manual is possible. I had a play with a hg10 a while back and the af never bothered me.

    SAme with the auto levels too really - not ideal but not the end of the world. The hg10 isnt really a great tool for learning the minutiae of perfect set ups. BUT is is a camera and as such can still be a powerful tool used within it's limits, I suggest that is the way forward. Use it as a bullet dodger where it's ease of operation is a boon not a problem, onne person operation means you are far more likely to actually get stuff filmed and in the can.

    As for mics - I suggest that first you get a good shot gun mic - these can do just about everything.

    I am sure your stills skills will be a great asset when it comes to composition but video is very different to stills. Composition and quality still matter but maybe the action matters more. And obviously the whole composition thing has a temporal element too that gives you another expressive tool.

    What to film? Like with your stills work - everything around you! Great documentary subjects, often the greatest, are to be found right on your doorstep, often you yourself can be the subject - if you are brave!

    Between daft funny things I am planning / aiming to do some more '4 docs' type 4 min ish micro docs. Its great practice to make something persuasive in such a short time and I do think there is a market for shorites.

    As a final piece of advice - editing - cut cut cut, then cut even shorter, come back next week and cut it again. Everytime I look in my archived films folder I always think 'too long'.

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