on-location-audio-kit.jpeg

Sound Kit

See my sound kit over at kit.com

my-small-camera-kit.jpeg

Small Camera Kit

See my small camera kit over at kit.com

I'm a photographer learning to improve the quality of my film and video. At the same time, I have a somewhat limited budget, like most enthusiast film makers. My goal in sharing info on gear is to help you get the best production value for reasonable prices and hopefully help you avoid some of the common mistakes (many of which I've already made). Cameras and Lenses:

Panasonic GH5 - This is my small video camera. The Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro is the main video camera and the Nikon D750 remains my main camera for still photos. The GH5 has an amazing set of video features and works great for the type of shooting I do--interviews, talking head, and every once in a while, events (I shot video for a wedding with it while the Nikon handled the still photos). It is better at high ISOs than its predecessor, the GH4. I find that shooting up to 3200 ISO is completely usable, beyond that things get a bit too noisy. But shooting above 3200 ISO is a very, very rare need for my work. The 4K footage it captures internally at 4:2:2 10-bit is quite good and unprecedented in any other camera at this price. In most cases, I record the video from the HDMI output to my Atomos Shogun recorder in 4:2:2 10 bit color to a ProRes file. Working with ProRes is a dream on my iMac. It plays back 4K footage in a buttery smooth sort of way and makes editing fast and effortless, letting me focus on the art rather than technical details. I love the GH5's electronic viewfinder (having come from a DSLR that didn't have a working viewfinder for video).

I upgraded to the GH5 from the GH4 which was my primary small video camera from May 2014 until May 2017. Before I received the Shogun in January 2015, I recorded 4:2:2 10 bit 4k footage from the GH4 to my Atomos Ninja 2 which results in a stunning HD image. This combination is great for almost any situation. The only downside is that the GH4 produces a rather noisy image in low-light/high ISO shooting situations. But the GH5 has addressed that quite nicely.

Olympus 45mm f/1.8 Lens (GH4)--native m4/3 lens that I have for my Panasonic GH4 which means that it auto focuses on my GH4. Nice clean optics, fast aperture, plenty of nice bokeh--actually better than I expected, and a decent price.

Coming back to this a couple of years later and after a lot more use, this lens is optically stunning. Really glad I bought this. My go-to lens for interviews.

Panasonic Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 lens for micro 4/3rds cameras. This is the lens that stays on my Panasonic GH4 when I'm not shooting an interview. This is an incrediby versatile zoom. Images are sharp and clean, the max aperture of 2.8 gives me lots of light-gathering ability, and the focal length range is quite useful. It is plenty wide for nearly everything I need, and provides a little bit of telephoto reach as well. The image stabilization is very quiet and transparent. It is a little pricey at about $900 USD, but between this and the Oly 45mm, I feel like I have pretty much everything I need for almost every situation.

Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. This is now my main camera. It’s an amazing camera with a 4/3s sensor, amazing imagery, easy to use controls. There are a few awkward things about it that may be deal-breakers for some: The Canon EP-6 batteries only last about 30 - 40 minutes. The form factor of the camera is awkward making it difficult to mount and balance on most single handle gimbals. To address the battery issue, I use an Anton Bauer battery plate and a D-tap to 2-pin cable. I don’t use gimbals much so the second issue isn’t much of a problem. With its m4/3 lens mount, I use the two lenses listed above.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC Memory Card (UHS-I U3, class 10, 95MB/s) is the memory card I use in my Panasonic GH4 to record 4k video. I have NEVER had an issue with this card, even at the highest bit-rate recording formats on the GH4. No dropped frames, not corrupted files, not issues. I have had issues with other lesser cards. It is probably worth the extra expense. I've heard similar things from other GH4 shooters. SanDisk has never let me down.

Audio and Microphones:

The DPA 4017B is my primary shotgun microphone. The microphone is very small and light relative to other medium shotgun microphones. It has a focused pickup pattern which is directional but not so tight as to make slight mis-aims problematic. It sounds sweet, it's off-axis rejection at different frequencies is smoother than most other shotgun mics, and it has been very reliable so far. The 4017B is my favorite mic.

Audio Technica AT4053b Hypercardioid Microphone--When recording dialogue indoors for things like interviews or talking head, this is a great choice. It has a nice, realistic low end and open higher-end response. Seems to do slightly better at rejecting echo indoors vs. most shotgun microphones.

Sennheiser MKH8050 Supercardioid microphone. When recording dialogue indoors, this is my favorite boom mic. It is tiny and weighs very little, works well in terms of rejecting RF interference, and most importantly sounds great. This one is a little more expensive so will be out of reach of most enthusiast recordists, but a great option when you’re working on sound professionally.

RODELink wireless lavalier system--This wireless system is different than the traditional systems like Sennheiser's G3 Evolution system which use UHF frequencies. Instead, RODELink uses the 2.4GHz frequency to transmit an encrypted digital signal. So far in tests, this system is top notch. Even in Wifi busy environments with over 10 wifi hotspots, I get clean audio with no dropouts as far as I was about to test (about 60 meters indoors). And in this case, the talent was also carrying his mobile phone in his pocket with all its radios on. It wasn't until he walked well around a corner beyond the 60 meters (out of line of site) that we started experiencing dropouts.

The included RODE Lavalier is not my favorite lavalier - the best way I can describe its sound is "crunchy". It normally sells for $250 on its own so that it is included in this kit is impressive. Here's the review of the RODELink.

Sanken COS-11D Lavalier Microphone--This is one of the most common lavalier microphones used by pros for film and TV production. I much prefer the sound of this lav to the RODE and it cuts decently with my boom mics.

Voice Technologies VT500 Omni-directional Lavalier Microphone. The VT500 is a great sounding pro-grade lavalier microphone I recently added to my kit. I prefer the sound of the VT500 over the Sanken for mid-range heavy voices so I really see this as a nice complement to the Sanken COS-11D. Between the two, one of them almost always sounds great. We'll see how things go over the next several months but I suspect I'll be reaching for the VT more often than the Sanken in my corporate work.

Audio Technica AT899 Lavalier Microphone. This is a good mid-range lavalier microphone. I don't generally use a lavalier but sometimes a boom mic just won't do and so you must use a lav. Among lavaliers in the sub-$200 US price range, this is the best I've found so far. Also, when pitted up against 5 other lav mics, this is the mic that won the subjective sound test (which one sounds best to you?). It has an XLR connector so you need a proper XLR based pre-amp/recorder. The only thing I don't love about this mic is that the battery pack is a cylinder without a belt clip. Not sure I follow Audio Technica's thinking on that, but I just put it in my back pocket and deal with the awkwardness.

Shure SM7B is my voice over microphone for live Sound for Video Sessions. It works better for my voice than that also excellent Electro-Voice RE20 which is a little brighter sounding. You need a LOT of gain from your preamp to make this work well, but the sound is good and it is good in terms of managing ambient noise in your recording space.

On Stage Stands Euro Boom Microphone Stand. With all these mics, you're going to need a stand at some point! I've had two of these for a long, long time. I bought the first one about ten years ago and it is still going strong. Also works well for booming a shotgun or small diaphragm condenser mic overhead for interviews.

K-Tek KEG 150CCR Carbon Fiber Boom Pole - when shooting my corporate pieces, I almost always prefer a boom mic over a lavalier but almost always record with both for safety. 9 times out of 10 I'll end up using the boom track. To get that boom track, you've got to get that microphone in close to the talent whether they're seated or moving around. The KEG 150CCR is a joy to use for getting that sound. The carbon fiber makes it incredibly light but sturdy. The internal cabling keeps things clean and simple, and the right angle XLR output at the base of the pole means I can rest the end of the pole on the floor between takes (because as light as it is, anything is heavy after a 5 minute take).

When I'm booming this for an interview, I'll usually mount it on a century stand (more on that below) and use the Auray Boom Pole Holder to hold the boom in the stand: 

Sound Devices 633 Audio Field Mixer/Recorder - Because I'm starting to do pro-level audio jobs, this is my new main audio mixer and recorder. Yes, this is an expensive piece of gear, but once you understand why it is priced at $3200 USD, the price shock quickly wears off. This machine helps the pros get the job done without requiring a lot of retakes. It is more than I can explain in a paragraph but please see our piece on why pros use gear like the Sound Devices 633.

At first I was skeptical that it would be much better than the Zoom F8 and if it was, in what ways could it be so much better? It is better in terms of audio quality and build quality, yes, but it goes far beyond that as well. the ergonomics of this mixer are really quite amazing. Acting quickly, like you must when mixing during a shoot, is much easier on the 633 than on the Zoom. It has proper faders which are large knobs (technically, they are potentiometers with large knobs) and are silky smooth, making it a breeze to react quickly to changing sound. The headphone amplifier is much better than the Zoom's and the screen is a little larger. There are four battery powering options including Hirose DC input and Sony NPF batteries so it is actually less expensive to stock up on batteries for this than the Zoom (no Sony NP-F option unless you buy an NP-F to hirose plate). The list goes on and on and it is the sum of all those little things which make this a solid choice for pros.

Sound Devices MixPre-6 Audio Mixer/Recorder - This is Sound Devices first serious foray into meeting the needs of more serious YouTubers, podcasters, and gigging musicians. Without blathering on about it here, see my review above. In short, this is my favorite sub $1000 audio field recorder for film and video making.

Zoom F8 Audio Field Recorder - Zoom has really upped their game with the F8. The preamps are fantastic! The build quality is great. The size is super convenient whether in a bag or on a cart. This is an amazing little device for solo and small crew shooters. To my ear, the preamps are nearly as good as Sound Devices 7 series recorders. Lemo DC input so I can use pro-level batteries like V-mount or Gold mount (Anton Bauer). There are a couple of things that Sound Devices and Zaxcom mixers have that this doesn't (like large faders, analog limiters or super wide dynamic range, etc), but for the money, this is the best I've used in this price range. Have a look at my review.

Zoom F4 Audio Field Recorder - This is the newer, little brother to the Zoom F8. Like the F8, very good durable case, impressive preamplifiers with 75dB of clean gain, very flexible routing, dual SD card recording and on and on. If you can spend around $600 for an audio recorder, I'd say it should come down to this or the Sound Devices MixPre-3.

Tascam DR-60DmkII Audio Recorder--My favorite sub-$200 USD field recorder. Cleanest pre-amps in the sub $400 USD range of field recorders, including the Zoom H4n and H6. Nice screen that is totally usable outdoors. The form factor is decent, though arguably a little odd for some (I wish it had more points at which it could be mounted to a camera cage/rig) and battery life can be a challenge (I usually get 3 hours which is fine for most of my shoots). I add an external USB battery for longer shoots (up to 50! hours)

25' Nady XLR Cable--You've got to have an XLR cable to connect a pro-grade mic to the Tascam DR-60D. This one does great.

Zoom H1 Audio Recorder--Good audio recorder if you're on a budget. I use this as a recorder for my sub-$100 lavalier mics with 3.5mm plugs. Surprisingly, it seems to work best at an input level of 40/100 and then in post I normalize the audio signal. I don't really use the built-in mics but they'll do if you're just getting started, as long as you get the mics up close to your talent

Giant Squid Audio Lab Omni Mono Lavalier Microphone--This mic is the best sounding $40 mic I have used. I plug it into the Zoom H1 and use it like a wireless lav (but of course, I have to sync the audio to the video in post/editing). The new version also includes options for a 90 degree plug which I recommend because then with the Zoom H1, it fits more easily into the pocket of your talent.

JK MicJ 044 Omnidirectional Lavalier Microphone--yet another cheap lavalier microphone with a 3.5mm plug that comes in at around $30 USD. It is more sensitive than the Giant Squid and I think it sounds a little better (but that's subjective). The only down-side is that when recording to a stereo recorder like the Zoom H1, it only records to the left channel. So at playback, sound only comes out of the left speaker. This can be easily fixed in post, of course, but it is one more step. Note that this microphone is not well shielded so it may not work well with wireless transmitters.

Lighting

Lupo Superpanel 30 & 60 Full Color

Aputure COB120dII

Light Dome Mini II and Light Dome II

Kupo Backlite Stand--just added this to the kit a couple of weeks ago and find it very useful. I mount my Limo Studio fresnel light on this stand and set it on the ground just behind the talent, aimed at the backdrop. Makes it easy and convenient to get some light on the background, particularly when working in a small space which is a common situation in my shoots. Great, solid build. I expect many years of use out of this.

Westcott Photo Basics 5-in-1 Reflector. I bought this as my first reflector about 7 years ago and that original is still going strong and getting near daily use. I've added 3 more to my kit since then. This isn't quite the quality of a Lastolite reflector but it is also about 1/2 the price. I've found that reflectors, bounce cards, or whatever you choose to call them are one of the most useful pieces of lighting gear. It just so happens that they are reasonably priced as well, at least relative to most lighting instruments. I use them in studio, outdoors, on-location, you name it. Of course it has the removable cover which gives you four reflector options. I find the white, silver, and gold useful most often, and the black makes a good flag for blocking light. The scrim in the middle is a great diffuser for both outdoor use (to diffuse harsh sunlight) and in studio (to diffuse hard lights).

Lastolite EZ Balance Card. This is another inexpensive piece of gear that has improved the quality of my photos and video countless times. I use it mainly for setting custom white balance to get colors right on and sometimes also for exposure when shooting a high or low-key shot (pure black or pure white backdrop, for example). Folds up nicely and is very well made. I've had mine in near daily use for probably 4 years now. No signs of wearing out.

Impact Turtle Base Century Stand Kit. I know, I know, it is hard to get excited about stands for lights and flags because stands don't directly affect how your film looks or sounds. But what I've found over time is that because I have three of these, I spend less time trying to rig up lights and flags (to keep light from spilling where I don't want it) so shooting is quicker, and frankly, a lot more pleasurable because I'm not fighting with cheap stands that easily tip over. No, these things are not light weight so if you have to haul them around, you're going to get some serious exercise. But exercise is good for your heart. ;-) They can hold just about anything in just about any position and because they're so heavy and solid, concerns about tipping are much less than with traditional, lightweight portable stands. The turtle base makes is super easy to setup and breakdown and the grip arm can hold anything. They're way pricier than the cheap hollow aluminun stands but I have never felt a twinge of regret for buying these and I'm pretty sure they'll still be in good working order even after I'm not able to lift them anymore in 60 years from now.

Computing/Editing/Color Grading

I use an iMac Pro 10-core for editing. It is a very nice computer but it does not have a lot of storage.

So I took a chance on the Other World Computing Thunderbay 4 RAID Edition. This is a Thunderbolt 2 four disk enclosure. I bought the 8TB version. It is not a hardware RAID enclosure. At first I wouldn't consider anything but hardware RAID options. But on further research and given that this was priced at just under $1000 USD and that it did very, very well in benchmark tests and reviews, I took a chance on it. And I do NOT have regrets.