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Thread: Documentary filming

  1. #1
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    Default Documentary filming

    Hi there, i am a student in my first year. I have been asked to film a band on tour for a documentary they are going to try and get aired on national Tv, my question is, what would be the nest camera i could get for this kind of shooting?

    I already have a Canon 550D, should a get a new camera or just invest in better lenses for my current one?

    Cheers

  2. #2
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    Personally, unless you have an assistant and a sound recordist, I would forget all about DSLRs and get yourself a camcorder. Something without a large chip, a 1/2 inch or 1/3 inch is the maximum I would suggest. If you're short of funds, something like a secondhand XH A1 or Z1. Then get to know it so well you can operate it without looking.

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    Rob's absolutely right. Filming a documentary like that you need to be up and running in split seconds as you never know when the action is going to take place. When the police pull the band over for a spot check and demand they empty out all the flight cases, when the singer has has a few too many and is bad mouthing the lead guitarist, when the guy on the door is not letting a member of the band into his own gig because he's left his pass somewhere - these are all situations where you need to be ready to rock and roll without thinking.
    Film making is about content and look. If you can get both that's great. Content with a "video" look works. A "cinema" look without content isn't a film at all.
    Tim

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    Slightly surprised a student in their 1st year is asked to do this with (aparently) little guidance . . . and don't Colleges have camcorders for their students?
    Am I underestanding he's expected to go on-tour (maybe over a week-end?).
    Whilst there are some features on camcorders like Z1, it can be a nightmare to set-up and any changes required may mean reading the Manual. By comparison the Student's own camera/DSLR is likely to be up and running very quickly.... since he's familiar with it.

    As to buying lens for the shoot (or is that Borrow?) - then I guess that will depend on his Budget. For nightclubs there may be some advantage is having at least one lens with a large aperture (like f/1.8 - but these are likley to be pricey, yet sometimes you can get a 50mm off an old (film)SLR. With an adaptor these can be used and will work well in near-dark.
    BUT - as with so many things . . . get there a few days before and check out the light . . . and audio.
    Take some scenes and make Notes . . . then you'll know what works for you.... ready for the real shoot.

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    Quote Originally Posted by vidmanners View Post
    Whilst there are some features on camcorders like Z1, it can be a nightmare to set-up and any changes required may mean reading the Manual.
    Which bit of "then get to know it so well you can operate it without looking" did you miss
    Quote Originally Posted by vidmanners View Post
    Take some scenes and make Notes . . . then you'll know what works for you.... ready for the real shoot.
    [/quote]
    But this is not necessarily possible, which is why a "ready to go" camcorder is preferable.
    Tim

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    Filming a "fly on the wall" documentary isn't as easy as it appears. Certainly mucking about with the focus on a DSLR when the band is rushing around in a panic isn't going to work. In the same way having a 50mm "standard" lens on the camera is going to restrict you enormously. It will be too narrow when you're sitting in the crew bus (or van) and too wide when the lead singer has his fight with the drummer at the other side of the stage.

    As for...
    Quote Originally Posted by vidmanners View Post
    Take some scenes and make Notes . . . then you'll know what works for you.... ready for the real shoot.
    That sounds good in theory but with a FOTW, the whole thing is the real shoot and you have to shoot from the hip.

  7. #7

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    Another issue is with DSLR zoom lens, they don't back focus like Video camera lens do. (wish I'd known that before I got one). So you can't just zoom in get focus and it stays in focus throughout the zoom. It means you have to re-focus every time you change focal length. This is another reason something like a Z1 would be the best type of camera for this type of shoot.

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    [Slightly surprised a student in their 1st year is asked to do this with (aparently) little guidance . . . and don't Colleges have camcorders for their students?]

    I am asking in advance as the next module i am doing is documentary, and this is something i am doing outside of uni.

    So would it be best to invest in a proper camcorder for this and have my DSLR as a back up?

    I have been looking at the sony NEX-VG20, as it is close to being in my price range and i could probably go to that, or is there something better for the same kind of price?

    Cheers for all the help on this matter

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    I've not used the Sony NEX-VG20EH but it looks like the ideal tool for what you want. It's rare that you get a bad Sony and this one seems to have a lot of positive reviews.

    At the moment DSLRs are "in". Mainly because they can give a shallow depth of field which, for some people, equates to a "film look". For dramas and suchlike, they are very good value for money. As a general-purpose family camera they are superb. If you're working in an environment where you have time to prepare your shot, they deliver excellent pictures but... For fast-moving documentaries, they are far from ideal. Mainly for the reasons pointed out by Tim and Midnight.

    Your biggest problem will be getting the footage as it happens. This is why DSLRs are not a good idea for your project, too much fiddling around.

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