Rethinking Video Part Three

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Been a while since I’ve done one of these. You may remember in the last part of this series of articles, I hinted at a documentary I was doing (It’s posted below, but you can check it out here if you don’t want to wait). This was April, seven whole months ago.

I got busy. That happens with life and I wish it didn’t. On top of that, my computer couldn’t handle the high definition video that I wanted it to. I wish it could have, but it couldn’t.

The documentary in question is about my friend and his barn. For a little background, he lives in a house that was built around the time of the American Civil War, and the property also includes a barn from the same era. Back then, my whole town was farm land (apparently my property 30 seconds away was part of an orchard) but now the original properties have been substantially broken down for housing. From what I’ve seen, his is the only one in town to include the original barn. Anyway, I called him up and asked him if he’d be interested in letting me do some filming to test out my camera. He agreed.

Now, it’s important to note that this filming had no plan. I came over and told him to just start talking. We didn’t hash out too much of a story, there wasn’t any logic to the way the footage was shot, and we concluded filming when there wasn’t enough light to go any further. Having said that, don’t expect the resulting documentary to follow any logical flow. It was more an act of shooting as much as possible, and then seeing if I could somehow work all the footage together in a way that made sense. In this regard, I think it came out well.

Let’s talk about where I messed up. For one, lighting. I brought a measly halogen light when I went to film, but quickly abandoned it. It made absolutely no difference whatsoever in illuminating the room. I probably could have produced better footage had I handled the ISO settings better, so that’s something to take into consideration for next time. Really though, it’s difficult to get a good sense of things when you have only a two inch screen to look at and adjust with. On top of this, I also purchased an inexpensive NEEWER LED lighting rig that sits on top of the camera. Though off-brand and cheap, it’s particularly bright and comes with several gels so it should help out tremendously. A smaller mistake I made was where I had my friend looking when on camera. While I tried to follow the rule of thirds as best as I could, I didn’t know about having the subject look to the far side of the camera. If you have him look at the edge of the screen he’s on, it’s as if 2/3 of the screen is wasted. Unfortunately, it’s something that you cannot unsee after it is pointed out to you. Lastly, I had some problems in audio. While I did monitoring with headphones, it was difficult to gauge the sound quality when I could hear everything from outside the headphones as well as through them. Ultimately, I’ll probably get a pair that do noise cancellation. I’m also interested in getting an inexpensive shotgun microphone for something a little more directional.

For editing, I ended up completely building a new computer from scratch. The process and all the little details can be found here, so give that a glance if you have not already. While I did a rough edit on my laptop, it would frequently crash and I could not get an fine edit because the playback was so choppy. This new rig does the job nicely and cuts through the video like a warm knife. Now, I started editing this in Sony Vegas and that’s what I finished in. For future projects, I am hoping to switch to Adobe Premiere. I’m a bit sick of Vegas at this point, especially after finding a glitch wherein I cannot render using the beefy GPU I got for the build. Anyway, I feel the editing went well. I’m not fantastic at color correcting. I did some minor correcting and light balancing, but some of the footage was hard to do anything with since it was so dark.

Below is the final edited video if you care to check it out. I originally planned to do a few of these mini documentaries, but it took so long to do one and I ultimately ran out of time to follow through with anything else. While I had some problems with this project, I can say that few of these issues would effect how I do Obsoleet or any similar tutorial-based segment. I recently created a segment for The New Tech which will pop up soon with any hope, and I can now turn my attention more towards this type of content once again. Let’s just hope real life tones it down a little.

Rethinking Video Part Two

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

So before I get into talking about my next film, I’d like to do a brief writeup on some of the audio gear I’m now using. Right after I filmed my ‘Monday’ video, I was already making my plans for the next one I’d do. As soon as I moved past the conceptual ideas, there was the question of what additional hardware I might need, and it came down to a few things I wanted to pick up to handle sound better. There are quite a few people out there that embrace the built-in microphone for the T3i, but let’s just be realistic and state the obvious: it is a built-in microphone on a camera designed primarily to take stills. So you already have a camera not designed to do video, though it is capable of doing it nicely, and then you have the microphone it comes with and let’s face it, when was the last time you bragged about the microphone on your digital camera. At first I tried to be a optimistic and shot a little video indoors with me talking a few feet away from the camera. Even at a few feet, the speech was low and the background noise was high. If you consider the comment I made in the last post about filming in the wind, filming anyone talking outdoors with this setup was simply out of the question.

It came down to what combination of audio components would I want to assist my camera. If you do any sort of searching around for information about digital audio recorders, you will quickly stumble upon the company Zoom who manufacture a slew of recording products for both amateurs and professionals alike. For the DSLR filmmaker, the Zoom H1 and H4n are the popular products: the Zoom H1 being an entry level recorder with two on-board microphones, mic in and line out jacks, and the H4n boasting four channel recording and a sturdy rubberized chassis. For $300, I didn’t want to spring for the H4n, so I decided to take a gamble and try the H1 for less than a third of the price of its bigger brother. Yes, there are other digital recorders out there (Sony actually offers a similar looking recorder for about $20 less than the H1) but the reviews I looked up more than sold me on the H1, as well as hearing it do its thing.

If you do any sort of video searches for the H1 to see it in action, you may be pleasantly surprised. The recorder itself looks a bit like a toy, but the audio you can get out of it can be downright amazing at times. I quickly found videos using the H1 at a live music event and was stunned by the clarity of the recorded music. I also found another video of the H1 being compared to the internal T3i microphone and a Rode VideoMic. I have to say that to my ears, both the Rode microphone and the H1 microphones blew the T3i out of the water and the H1 very slightly outperformed the Rode mic as well. Even when they did a test of the Rode microphone plugged into the H1, I still preferred the sound of the H1 directly.

So as I said, I ordered the H1. I also got a shoe mount, since it made more sense to mount the recorder on top of my camera than to hold the recorder near it, or use a second tripod. The H1 can be screwed on to a standard tripod mount, but with a shoe mount costing under $2 I could slide one end into the slot on my camera meant for an external flash and screw the recorder onto the other. I also got a windscreen from Rode called the “Dead Kitten” which lives up to its name in appearance. Windscreens were highly recommended for the H1 which just leaves its microphones exposed  with no cover. Some people say to go foam, while others will point you to the fur-styled ones. I wanted to get fur, and the two main names seem to be Rode and a smaller company called Redhead. I ended up going with Rode simply because I could get a better deal on it through Amazon. Lastly, I also ordered a 16GB microSDHC card so I could record for a long time and not have to worry about swapping cards.

 

Mounting the Zoom H1

When everything arrived, most things went together without a hitch. The H1 recorder has extensive settings for audio quality, and switches in the back for lo-cut, format, and automatic leveling. I switched the format to WAV and turned off automatic leveling as I have read that you will get inconsistencies: the recorder will start recording loudly and cut the sound down a few seconds in which can be nightmarish for recording music. I also pushed the quality as high as it could go, and saw that I had about 7 hours with my microSD card. Plenty of space there. The windscreen fit the recorder like a glove, but I really wonder about the blocking power in strong winds. I also noticed that it really picks up handling noise, so if you are simply hitting buttons while recording you will pick up a lot of unwanted noise. Since I am mounting this on top of my camera, there is no problem there, even with moving shots I cannot notice any movement noise. I also read wrapping the unit in some rubber bands helps, especially around the battery and card doors, and that did actually help eliminate vibrational noise to a degree. It looks a bit strange, but it works.

I’d also like to mention that while you can use the line-out on the recorder to the input on the camera, I decided for the sake of quality to record separately and synchronize the streams in post. While this may be a little more time consuming as I have to line up tracks, it should produce an overall better sound. I tried the T3i sound side by side with sound from the Zoom H1, and I have to say that I can confirm on the the fact that the H1 is much better. Even with the lo-cut filter on the H1 off, there is so much less background noise I can’t even do it justice in writing.

You’ll just have to listen to it.