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Giuseppe3000

Equipment for a solo shooter

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Dear friends, this is my first post but I'm been using Jw for gathering a lot of knowledge and insight into the world of sound so thank you for the help so far. I'm a documentary filmmaker working in what you'd call in english Veritè Style documentary (we call it 'observational' in Europe), anyway as you can guess for some shooting situations I'm a solo shooter and truth be told for my tastes I like to be invisible, so I try to avoid too much attention with a crew (boom pole, furs, cats, dogs and lavaliers). I sure know the limitations of this approach but it works better for the subjects and the stories I tell. I'd love to have a sound person, my production budget could afford it and usually when the shooting situation permits, I hire one but most of the time I'm alone, logistically speaking, sometimes is hard to plan a shooting day ahead, so...

 

That said, I work with a shoulder mounted camcorder, like the Eva-1 and as a b cam a GH5s Panasonic. I use an NTG3 microphone and a Zoom H5 for sound, I shot a documentary for state televison which we are wrapping as I speak. Never missed a shot, the sound in then recorded from zoom into the camera for reference. Now in post I'm talking with my sound man (he's doing post but works on location too) and he's really critical of the NTG3-h5 combo. I like to work with him and I trust him and his disregard for the NTG3 is truly vocal but I wanted to hear you two cents before trying out and test the equipment. 

 

The why I chose the h5 is mainly portability. Now I'm asking you, if I'd like to upgrade, what would be a portable combo? I'm eying Sound devices Mixpre 3 and a Sennheiser MKH 416 or a Sanken Cs3e the question is: it is a true upgrade? What's your experience? I'm tempted to buy a good mike and keep the Zoom for now. 
Working these days on the post-production we are struggling to have a good sound and my partner tells me that is mainly the off axis of the NTG3 that is critical, the directivity. What would be your choice? What would you suggest if a documentarian came to you with the request: 'I can work on this gig just me and my camera, what should I get?' The Sennheiser MKH 416 is sweet budget wise too and I like the idea of an evergreen workhorse. Plus, I have a Rycote lyre and Rycote deadcat already suitable for the length of the MKH 416. 


Thanks a lot my friends and good work! Don't get too harsh, I respect sound and sound persons dearly, it's just how I work.

 

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53 minutes ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

I respect sound and sound persons dearly, it's just how I work.

 

I don't tell self shooters my skills and expertise that I have spent many years learning and perfecting so they can save a buck and get average results. 

 

It's just how I work

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The 416 would be an upgrade, yes, but you'd still have the off axis issue. You can get an expensive mic like a Schoeps CMIT, but pairing that with a Zoom H5 is pure blasphemy, so your own suggestion (Mixpre 3) would make sense. A nice M/S mic could be good idea too, like the MKH 418.

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1 hour ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

...

What would you suggest if a documentarian came to you with the request: 'I can work on this gig just me and my camera, what should I get?'

...

 

 

"A professional sound person."

 

(But only if the quality of your documentary matters.)

 

FWIW:  I've been asked this question several times in the past, and those who paid heed to my answer thanked me later for it.

 

 

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416 is bulletproof but heavy, and kind of long to mount on a small camera, esp with a windscreen.  The shorter Sanken (and Rode) shotguns might be easier to deal with.  MixPre sounds good but takes attention.  If you already have your ergonomics worked out for shooting with your Zoom try the new mic first and see if the upgrade is worth it vis the hassles and how noisy the locations you are working in are.   The better SN of the MixPre might not be worth the trouble.

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I have worked on many, many documentaries in my 46 year long career in sound and have also been asked many times by documentarians the question similar to yours. Usually takes the form of "what piece of equipment can I buy and put to use myself along with my camera" to improve the somewhat miserable results I have had in the past when shooting alone without a sound person. The real honest answer is that there is no single microphone or recorder, even if considered an upgrade from what you are using, that will yield substantially better results than you are now getting. Even though you say you are working "solo" because you want t be as unobtrusive and "invisible" as possible, I think it is safe to say that without someone else helping you out recording the sound, you will not get the resulting sound you want. I would think about pairing up with one other person, a professional sound person skilled in documentary recording, and I can almost guarantee you will get a better soundtrack for your projects.

 

Several times working with my father, Haskell Wexler, on documentary projects, he has gone ahead and shot stuff, even interviews, relying on the camera to record and having to operate microphone or microphones while operating the camera. Once in the editing room, it was obvious that the material that was shot while I was on the job was far superior to the stuff he got working solo.

 

So, in conclusion I think what you need, as John B. has suggested, is  "A professional sound person."

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I don’t understand how a two camera setup is less visible than a camera person and a sound person. 

 

I understand what you are trying to do but if you agree to do several peoples jobs, they’ll just figure out a way to burden you more, pay you less, and eventually replace you. You are just playing into a cheap clients game from what it sounds like. 

 

Remember, you are essentially saying “what can I buy so that i don’t have to hire you?” To all of us

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I'm going to provide a three-part answer.

 

(1) Your question

I reviewed a NTG3 when it first came out, and used it on a doc for a few days (it was pissing rain, so I was happy to use that mic 😉 ). IMO, it was OK. I sent it back to the company and didn't even finish out the doc with it. But it wasn't a terrible mic. If I were you, I'd keep that mic and rather than buying a 416, maybe look at something like the Sanken CS-M1 that Phil alludes to. https://www.sankenmicrophones.com/production/shotgun/cs-m1/

For the GH5s, following the same lead, just get some cheap on-camera mic from Rode or someone... I mean, there's a limit to what you can get from a camera-mounted mic.

 

And since your A cam is a Panasonic EVA1, why not skip the little Zoom and go straight into the camera? I haven't fed audio recorded directly into that camera, but based on past history with Pansonics, I'd guess the audio on that camera is fairly decent, and probably better than on your little Zoom H5. So you can make things easier on yourself and probably improve or at least not lessen your audio by going direct in.

 

And if you're shooting solo, consider buying some radio mics that you can attach to your key character/subjects. That way you might at least have a fair shot at getting a good track from her, him, or them.

 

If you're going above two tracks, then maybe look into a MixPre 3 or 6, maybe a Zoom F4 or F6, or something. And consider attaching that recorder to a hippack rather than to your camera, then maybe run a couple cables between the two... Why handhold the weight? Or consider adding TC boxes so at least you can easily find your tracks at the end of the shoot.

 

If you don't want to spend much money and are OK living with the real and significant compromises in shooting solo, maybe drop by the DVXUSER forum where you'll find more people who work that way. I'm not slagging DVXUSER, but her on JWSoundgroup, our concerns for audio quality are primary. DVXUSER might be more responsive to your query. http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/

 

Oh there's more, but I guess my bottom line would be find a mic that complements rather than replaces the NTG3, get some wireless, and send audio straight to the camera. 

 

(2) Rolling solo

As others say, getting picture and sound at the same time not the best idea. Look at some of the giants of verite/direct filmmaking. Let's start with Robert Drew and Frederick Wiseman: They're both soundies who work with/hire camera operators. They don't work solo. Same with most of the the verite/direct films I've seen over the years; only a few jump out that I think were shot solo. Those include Seventeen, The Cruise, The Overnighters... Oh geez, I think much of Ross McElwee's and Doug Block's work, too. But those people have A LOT of experience working solo (and different ways of handling audio), and the more recent ones, at least, use wireless mics, and  some of them work in kinda predictable environments and the sound is still sometimes compromised. But chase down their/those films on IMDB, Netflix, etc and watch some of their films. And then think of all the great verite films that --Did-- have a sound mixer.

 

But you know, I recall a fairly OK article a few months ago that, while focused more on ENG and newsmag work, not on hard doc/verite filmmaking, might be helpful:

 

Sky News Washington cameraman Duncan Sharp on shooting with the GH5

https://www.newsshooter.com/2018/01/26/sky-news-washington-cameraman-duncan-sharp-shooting-gh5/

 

(3) Why I'm thinking about this

I'm working on a film right now that involves following some people in very tough situations (mainly in San Francisco's Tenderloin and surrounding neighborhoods). Concerns about trust, intimacy, fear, and safety are making me shoot solo much of the time, especially for the exterior scenes. It's taken a while to gain the trust of these people, and I don't want to risk or violate that trust. I also need to keep a low profile; already been threatened with robbery twice, hassled by people several times, and so on. For this situation, working solo is the right thing to do, imo (though I may need to hire some security; the cops are fairly OK with me right now, but they're not always around).

However, I'd rather be working in a two-person crew. I'm better at directing when I'm behind a mic than behind a camera, the pictures and sound are better, collaboration is a great thing, and hell just trying to balance a moment's best picture frame with the moment's approriate audio is hard enough with two people. In a hard doc/verite situation doing everything yourself not only leads to compromises in picture and sound quality, it can often lead to compromises in story. It can be hard to keep track of everything unfolding around you when you're stuck looking through a lens. For this film, there are verite segments and there are policy/expert interviews. The interviews involve a small crew. The verite will have a sound person some of the time, but will mostly be solo. Oh I could go on. (I could also clean up this paragraph so it's clearer, but I gotta get back to work...)

 

This isn't a budget issue. I'm working off a small grant now, waiting on a couple others, and am today writing another grant application. Working solo part of the time is a compromise that I can't figure out how to solve without messing up and risking too much for this particular story. I'd much rather not work that way. 

 

Hope this helps a little!

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4 hours ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

Working these days on the post-production we are struggling to have a good sound and my partner tells me that is mainly the off axis of the NTG3 that is critical, the directivity. What would be your choice? What would you suggest if a documentarian came to you with the request: 'I can work on this gig just me and my camera, what should I get?' The Sennheiser MKH 416 is sweet budget wise too and I like the idea of an evergreen workhorse. Plus, I have a Rycote lyre and Rycote deadcat already suitable for the length of the MKH 416. 

 

Ciao Giuseppe,

 

I guess the problems you have with your sound are a result of the wrong microphone placement. Therefore an upgrade to a MKH416 won't really solve the problem. Even the best microphone sounds bad if the placement isn't right. That's why I would think about changing the recording technique instead of just replacing the gear with more expensive stuff.

 

Greetings

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Please read and re-read Jim Feeley's excellent and incredibly thoughtful post. The references to some of the best documentarians and the work they did is really something to examine  ----  this is fantastic information and such a good way to look at this issue.

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6 hours ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

I like to work with him and I trust him and his disregard for the NTG3 is truly vocal but I wanted to hear you two cents before trying out and test the equipment. 

 

It is weird he is so hateful of the NTG3, as the NTG3 is a solid mic. Is it the best in the world? No.
But I can confidently guess that your limiting factor here in not the mic but your technique. 

 

6 hours ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

I'm eying Sound devices Mixpre 3 and a Sennheiser MKH 416 or a Sanken Cs3e the question is: it is a true upgrade?


Any Zoom F series or Sound Devices MixPre series would be a big upgrade over an H5
As for a 416? I wouldn't leap to recommending buying a new 416, especially not when you already own a NTG3. 
As for a CS3e? I love mine, wouldn't want it to be my only mic though! Keep the NTG3 as a back up. 

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3 hours ago, Jim Feeley said:

Oh there's more, but I guess my bottom line would be find a mic that complements rather than replaces the NTG3, get some wireless, and send audio straight to the camera. 

 

 

I agree on almost all those points (except about not using a recorder, as with TC it is a snap to sync everything in post).

 

For wireless on a very low budget then check out the new Deity Connect Wireless, or secondhand Sennheiser G3 / Sony UWP-D11


As well as the already mentioned Sanken CSM1, various low budget hypercardioids are worthwhile checking out (because they'd complement rather than completely replace your NTG3): AudioTechnica 4053b, Audix SCX1, AKG CK63/480B, Oktava MK012HC, etc etc
Because a well placed hypercardioid will sound better usually indoors than a shotgun would, plus they're a bit more forgiving if your technique is bad and you don't get it exactly on axis. 

But in the end, how the gear gets used matters far more than what gear. 

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If you are working alone and have a shotgun mounted on the camera you will never beat the off axis dialog issue.  I work on the post of a lot of one-man-band verite docs, and what helps you when the subject is on camera: the directionality of the shotgun pattern, kills you when someone off camera speaks.  I've had to heavily work over entire scenes where an on-cam subject has a convo with someone off to the side, and I have to go after the off-camera person for each line and deal with the big change in BG noise.  So as you probably have already discovered, you need to keep the main talker on camera if you are relying on a camera mounted shotgun.  Built-in mics on lower-end cameras tend to to be wider pattern, but that means they pick up more BG too.  We've done pretty well with the finished mix with films by single-person crews, but that was they kept the limitations of their technique in mind all the time they were rolling (ok, most of the time).

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We shoot a pretty small-footprint travel show and deal with these sort of challenges all the time.  Bottom line is we are never less than two people and could probably use a third completely dedicated to sound.  We used a 633 in S1 and a MixPre 6 in S2 with G3s and Cos-11s in both cases.  In S1 we were almost always one dedicated Sound Person with the 633 kit.  In S2 we went from DSLRs to the Eva1 and we do a fair amount of NTG-3 into the Eva1 and sometimes the other person is shooting too.  I would certainly recommend dropping the Zoom.  The Eva1 sounds good.  Other than that, there are no easy answers.  Strongly considering a 3rd person and a boom as much as possible in S3.  Obviously if I'm throwing a stripped down Eva1 under a piece of clothing over my arm to get out and about at night in Rio with some stealth I'm not going to have my other crew member kitted out in full sound regalia, but then we aren't trying to get perfect sound.  Anything that rises to the level of interview or key soundbite has two of us with one very focused on sound and it still isn't as good as the full dedicated professional suggestions above.

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Well, thank you all for you answers and thought about it. I'll put to use all your valuable advices.

Thanks a lot for taking the time for lengthy replies.

I wanted to apologies though because maybe in my post there was an undercurrent of 'No budget, I'm an artist, how can I have stellar result without you' kind of attitude which is not mine at all, and as said I try to have a professional sound person when possible, I'm working with one now in post and we talk a lot to improve the work in the future. I know that the poor sound quality is due the absence of a dedicated professional, of course. I held sound dearly, I venerate sound and that's why I'm here. But, a little but, there are instances in which the thing is a bit tricky.  For instance, I'm prepping a documentary now and I'm shooting preliminary stuff to put a trailer together. I'm looking out funds with my producer still and I go there shooting alone, there's no crew, no project going on yet, but as experience taught me, there are scenes that sometimes end up in the final cut because what has happen is unique, so in this case I'm a solo shooter in spite of myself, And so on, there are millions variables in documentaries as you know. In this scenarios and in other situation where I have to be alone, I was asking for advice, that's all. Thanks, thanks a lot. You advice and work is really appreciated.  

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8 hours ago, Giuseppe3000 said:

 I know that the poor sound quality is due the absence of a dedicated professional,..

 

Not quite. The poor sound quality is due to physics.

 

A dedicated and experienced professional understands the physics. They can control/compensate better than someone whose mic and eyeball is locked onto a camera, is concentrating on picture framing, and is trying to conduct interviews at the same time.

 

As Jim points out in his excellent post, you can direct/interview while running the mic. Takes some experience and skill to do it well, but at least if your only technical requirement is mic position, you're free to take in the whole area visually  and to maintain eye contact with the subject.

 

I've directed a bunch of decent pieces* with a hand-held short gun (rather than a boom), and someone else shooting. They can move around and get good visuals, and I can be in a conversational position to conduct a more intimate interview (with less room effect and noise), just staying out of the shot. 

 

* - well, the sound and interviews were decent, and the DP was very good. The overall films certainly weren't at the Wiseman level.

 

The alternative way to compensate for physics is a lav. 

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I've shown multiple director/DPs who've had decent noggins this workflow, for when "there's only one seat on the plane to Iraq" jobs come up.  There's a few options for it, all require cameras with timecode (unless you really want to pluraleyes everything)-

 

Take a Zaxcom QRX235, rig and power it on your camera.  Plug one output into one of the camera's XLRs, you can either take one channel or have a cable made to combine the two channels into one mono signal.  Now take a Tentacle Sync (or whatever small timecode box you prefer), split the output of that and feed the QRX and the camera timecode at the same time.  Plug a mic (Sanken CS-M1 is the current best for this I think) into the other XLR channel, and you're good to use as many Zaxcom TRXs as you'd like.  Roll the onboard recorders as primary audio all day, sync everything with timecode.  Works best with 1-2 channels but it's not hard to set up the QRX to quickly switch frequencies if you want to use 2+.  

 

The option for this, if you want to have more leeway with your onboard mic, is to use a camera that allows you to split the same mono signal to both tracks with different gains, so you can run high gain/low gain to save for loud moments while having a decent level for quiet stuff.  You can make a headphone cable to come out of the QRX to listen to the lavs, which since you don't need to plug into the camera is easy to keep in a shoulder bag or whatever kind of hip pack you're running around with.   If the QRX isn't on top of the camera you may want two tentacle syncs jammed together.

 

The pros of this is that you have no distance issues, unlimited tracks, and the smallest amount of equipment possible to record audio.  Neverclip on lavs gives you a lot more leeway with dynamic range for the crazy stuff.  The con is that it takes a bit to set up and become comfortable with the workflow, but once you've built the thing you shouldn't have to change any of it.  

 

 

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Just an EVA and a GH5S - which takes the XLR adapter, doesn't have to be too complicated.

 

You have 4ch between those 2, use some wireless mics and maybe the CS-1M with the new Cinela is better for such a job, do not think the NTG3/416 solution is the best for a camera setup. Even the MKH440 can be better for some situations - which is a stereo shot gun mic.

 

Just 2 cameras, easy to synch, even manually, if you do not cut all the time while shooting.

 

Whatever you buy, nothing can replace a true human that knows what to do with a boom pole, even recording on camera. so don't overspend for gaining just a little bit of better sound.

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Shooting requires careful study and constant purposeful adjustments.  The composition, sensitivities, iris, focus, and an open eye to what is happening outside of the frame.  In fact, I’d say without working with a producer or director, you will often loose content because you are too “into the eyepiece” to see the big picture - or as a sound crew, I can often direct camera to shift attention to something or to get ready for something to happen.  Recording sound also requires great attention and if not an understanding of acoustics, at least the practical experience of what will cause issues and field expedient solutions.  You can certainly do both jobs well in easy environments, but as you face challenges your chances of doing both jobs competently dwindles very quickly and given that the quality for documentary footage (the image) has been raised and keeps going up, even your success as a single cameraman alone faces challenges. I’m getting off of a doc where they are using Optimos, fair amount of lighting, lots of negative fill, and really pushing the “cinema” aesthetic.

 

My bit of advice, when you have a choice, choose quiet outdoor locations.  If you are going to shoot inside, shoot in quiet good sounding (not reverberant) spaces.  Your NTG3 will do just fine.  If you can’t do this, then you need to hire a sound mixer or figure out how to deploy wireless mics really well.  If you can’t do that, then put on a wide lens and put the camera in the face of the mouth movers and pray signal to noise ratio is adequate.  Refusing to do all of this is knowingly missing the most important aspect of verbal storytelling, which is the story itself.  If you instead just focusing on the supporting image it does not make you a documentarian, but a foolish guy with a camera.  Be a master of the craft and work without compromise.  I understand the solo artist thing - no criticism at all, but if you can’t succeed now with what you got, then focus perhaps on the non-verbal aspect of storytelling or shoot a sizzle to go sell the project to investors and get the resources you need to do it better.

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