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What wireless if you might get robbed?


Jim Feeley
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Working on a public-affairs documentary. Almost robbed a few days ago. Neighbor, a TV camop, has been robbed twice this year while on stories. Not isolated events. Some guns. Plenty of you have heard the stories. So lots of rethinking going on. Key questions: Should we shift or just drop this story? If we continue, how can we stay safe? [Edit: To be clear, this isn't war photography, "hanging with criminals while they do crimes," or anything. Just following some public-health and similar people while they do their work. And also, load in and load out of buildings in neighborhoods with increasingly brazen smash-and-grab theft and robbery.]

 

But the question I'm asking here: What's the lowest-profile and least-expensive wireless equipment we can use to get the footage we need? Also thinking about small body pack recorders such as Tentacle's hard to find Track E; but let's stick with wireless right now. Not really wanting to risk losing my main systems (Lectro).

 

I'm specifically asking about people's experience here with low-cost wireless systems. What are people's first-hand experiences with Rode Wireless Go and similar 2.4GHz (or whatever) systems? By "first-hand" let's say used them in the field or worked with tracks from these systems. Bonus for small RX, btw.

 

With a better than the bundled mic, are they acceptable for documentary dialog (ie- not for interviews, etc)?

 

In a big-city downtown environment, what sort of range did you get when TX were placed normally (ie- not the TX clipped to front of shirt)? Almost no range? Too many dropouts? 

 

Just get some used(?) G3 systems or something?

 

Which systems have you used successfully? If you've tried and been unsatisfied with these inexpensive systems, let me know that, too.

 

Thanks.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Jim Feeley said:

Working on a public-affairs documentary. Almost robbed a few days ago. Neighbor, a TV camop, has been robbed twice this year while on stories. Not isolated events. Some guns.

 

 

The only guns a sound mixer should face is a quality shotgun mic.  Is this kind of work even worth endangering your life with?

Regardless, the Tentacle E's work pretty good actually.  It's a set it in 32bit and forget kind of affair.  Timecode seems to hold fine.  Used a few on a documentary about long distance runners and worked out fine.

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Luke Seerveld's "Meet The Gaffer" series has all been done with the Senn. AVX ME2 wirelesses.  He's never very far away from his subject, I've haven't seen him use more than one of them at once, but he is shooting "in town" so to speak--lots of RF around.  They sounded ok--he is pretty careful about what he does and knows the limits of the system.  But they are still in the $700+ range new...   The alt. I guess is looking for old Lectro 100-series or etc used.  But none of this will stop someone who has decided you are a good mark--I've been held up while carrying nothing at all....   If you are considering working in a place where you think you might get robbed and can't afford police for your shoot then I'd vote for rethinking the filmmaking methods to be used.  Once the guns come out all bets are off, and those guys have no idea what is or isn't fence-able gear and are going to be super adrenal and maybe high too.  Don't do this.

 

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I am not sure I understand if you are talking about a general situation you are facing in your country on any kind of documentary shoot or specifically on this one. 

I have shot documentaries in quite a few places presumably dangerous (eg South African gangs war) but the directors and prod always worked very hard in pre production to make sure they secured local asset or key individuals or groups respected enough  (that sometimes could mean feared enough) to ensure we could work safely. Of course you can never plan everything and shit can happen but at least one thing I consider key in our jobs is going to work with trust and without fear that something you describe can happen.

if it happens it happens and the production must have proper insurance to cover your gear. But the prod and director must do their job correctly so that you all can go to work confidently. Going to do your job with the fear that you might be robbed so strong that you are thinking of changing your gear kit is not a good sign imho.

Interesting topic actually, that tackle the core of what documentary work is I think.

Beside these considerations, old Sennheiser G2 with a a good lav still work if you are close to subject and not bother too much but poor sound quality.

I actually have a G2 that perform better than other G3 or G4... I use it for camera guide track, but I keep a cos11 with the minijack plug just in case.

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I left the wrong impression in my first note. Sorry about that. As I just added to my original post, this isn't a war-zone or a follow-the-criminal-while-they-do-crimes doc. Just covering some public-health stuff, and we want footage of the people doing their outside work. It's what I'd previously consider just regular doc work.

 

But this year there have been a few high-profile robberies of TV news crews around here, a few others of news still photogs, I had one extra-worrisome load out of a corp job in Oakland, and I hear stories of indie people being robbed. And there's been one recent death. That's on top of a high number of smash and grab thefts. And usually during daylight hours, and not on stories or in locations that'd I'd consider especially risky. 

 

Here's a story of my neighbor's first time getting robbed this year (and links under to similar stories). He was robbed again a few months later, that time when with a security guard:

Reporter’s Camera Stolen at Gunpoint During Interview About Robberies

 

And for yucks, there's this from last month:

Bay Area Photographer Warns Others After Being Followed and Robbed of Equipment

 

While the thieves may not know the difference between cheap gear and expensive gear, they sure seem to know where to fence the stuff. So it seems like they'll smash-and-grab anything, and some will rob people with what they guess is $1000+ worth of gear.

 

Also, we've received some great advice and support from The Roy Peck Trust, The Committee to Protect Journalists, and a couple Frontline producers. And some cops. But still...

 

I have insurance, but I figure that's good for one theft at best (and even one would hurt my premium). I just want to be able to say, "OK, you have have the equipment" without going broke. I just want to be able to back away from the equipment without even briefly (and stupidly) thinking about the cost... And on a fairly low-risk story in "typical" city neighborhoods.

 

=====

 

So anyway, we've been doing me on sound and my partner on camera. Already stopped using a boom and cans on some days; instead, a CS-M1 on a handgrip, and a single earbud (and wireless & recorder). We may shift to two small cameras, one focusing on sound, the other on picture... Just so we can be lower profile, and maybe have a slightly increased chance of only being robbed of half our equipment...

 

One advantage of body-pack recorders: I'm guessing they're more likely to not get stolen and then we'd at least have some audio (I don't want to ask thieves if we can keep the cards).

 

I REALLY appreciate the comments and suggestions so far. And I'd love to read more. 

 

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7 minutes ago, Jim Feeley said:

I have insurance, but I figure that's good for one theft at best (and even one would hurt my premium). I just want to be able to say, "OK, you have have the equipment" without going broke. I just want to be able to back away from the equipment without even briefly (and stupidly) thinking about the cost... And on a fairly low-risk story in "typical" city neighborhoods.

I wonder if gear insurers will raise rates in SF / LA given these string of robberies occurring.  I always have worried about a vehicle break in and thus have always kept it so that my sound van is either empty or in a locked garage, but I'd imagine there have been a higher than usual amount of brazen daytime, often armed, robberies than usual which I'd imagine will inevitably drive up rates or include more exclusions.  I know my Athos policy drops down to a lower amount of coverage if I travel with gear to Mexico, for example.

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Dan Brockett has done quite a bit of work with on-person mic/recorders and has a high regard for them. You probably have seen his posts on other forums about this. He did a documentary with them.  He'd be worth contacting to find out what works and what doesn't.

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Both, the Deity Connect and the AVX system performed well for me. If you can live that latency.

Deity is a little more noisy and hasn't got interchangeable batteries, but quite cheap per ch. You get some remote features and you can connect two receivers (4 channels) to automatically coordinate frequencies. You can remotely switch rf power and latency to improve range or save battery life. No comparison to a pro system, but maybe ok.

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Wasn't there a thread with someone else that had similair thoughts and was trying to source old sennys? Like the old ek3000 series diversity recievers paired with compatible transmitters can sometimes be very good bang for the buck for a no thrills system whilst still sounding good. (Lacking built in scanner and depending on the exact units may not be very wideband).

 

But as someone mentioned earlier, even cheap options aren't particularly cheap.

 

How many channels do you need? Maybe if you default to use the cards with TC sync you could maybe use deity TRX (threat them as body recorders with potential to listen in, but don't count on them to work flawlessly as wireless units in a busy city, but some monitoring may be better than none)

 

That said, I hope you and your crew can operate in a way that feels less threatening. Seems all in all like there has been more violence towards journalists around the globe the last 1.5 or so years.

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Thanks again everyone.

 

So we're usually rolling just two channels of wireless, a boom mic (as I said, sometimes without boom), recorder in a bag. And TC on the camera, along with a camera mic for yucks. But that's with me wearing a bag. If we go to two small cameras, then I'm not sure... Maybe decent mic (e.g., CS-M1) and one channel of wireless on each camera... Still thinking that through.

 

So the Sennheiser AVX system that Phil mentions does seem cool. But the cute XLR RX would take a little rigging to work in a bag, I think. Though it might be great on a camera. See the picture below.

https://en-us.sennheiser.com/camera-wireless-lavalier-microphone-system-set-avx-mke2

 

The Deity system would fit in a bag but the RX seems kinda big to go on a small camera.

 

And the Sennheiser G2/G3/G4 systems kinda work on either.

 

All those systems totally fit in the budget (and the hopefully unneeded replacement budget).

 

I'm intrigued by the Wisycom MPR52 bundle.. (picture below_. Really small two-channel RX that'll easily work on even a small camera, good user reports, but US$3200... That's fine, but not disposable. 

 

The body pack recorder idea I'll explore some more. But not being able to monitor people wearing winter clothing wigs me out (Zaxcom recorder/transmitters would solve that problem, but not at a walk-away-price).

 

 

Well thanks everyone. More discussion welcome. I'll let you know what we end up doing... Sigh...

Screen Shot 2021-12-07 at 7.12.58 PM.png

 

Screen Shot 2021-12-07 at 7.17.02 PM.png

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I feel like the issue here is more about security than wireless… I’ve heard a lot of productions in the Oakland area have to hire a police officer to be with them for security. Prevents situations like this from arising. Perhaps there are some mixers from the area that can comment on that. I’d suggest that to production if it’s not a safe location to work at.

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AVX worked properly as I mentioned before. It's based on the cordless phone technology DECT (up to 250mW and automatic channel hopping) so there was never a need to worry.

Sennheiser never released an AVX version 2 of it which is quite disappointing. There's a lot of unused potential in the system.

The handmike SKM-AVX for instance: noisy, low level and only supporting dynamic capsules - making it completely useless as a plant mic.

 

You should take the MKE2 version since the ME2 is a horrible mike as all of us know here. Important: You can't use G2/3/4 or third-party lavs (even if they are named MKE2) on the AVX transmitter because you need a specially shielded mike, because of the enormous RF blown out by the SK-AVX transmitter. 

Downside: The receiver's battery only lasts 4 hours. But you can change it and feed it with USB power all the time. Sadly the wifi USB output on the Sony FS7 doesn't work for this..

Another downside: no button lock on the receiver. 

Anyway: Take care of you and the other crew members. Don't get hurt!

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5 hours ago, Jim Feeley said:

The Deity system would fit in a bag but the RX seems kinda big to go on a small camera.

You could potentially use a TRX as RX (similair size as a G3), and since they struck an agreement with Zax, you can record and transmit at the same time.

 

Maybe as Dave was onto, it is more an issue of security than equipment. I am sure a wisy bundle is great, not sure what gear you run normally, but it would indeed be quite hefty to let go off and not that different from some peoples primary tools.

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10 hours ago, Dave Pullmer said:

I feel like the issue here is more about security than wireless… I’ve heard a lot of productions in the Oakland area have to hire a police officer to be with them for security. Prevents situations like this from arising. 

 

Unfortunately, it doesn't. The second time my neighbor was robbed, he had a security guy with him. By all reports, a good guy. Ex-cop who was good at de-escalating situations, and all that. So the second robbery occurred on a weekday afternoon in Golden Gate Park, a big city space in San Francisco. The robbers walked up behind my neighbor and the security guy, pepper sprayed them, grabbed the camera, and ran.  The rules of engagement (I don't think that's the actual term, but let's roll with it) are you don't shoot at people fleeing, especially over a property crime. And the tear gas. So he chased them... and then the robber holding the camera was hit by the getaway car and dropped (and broke) the camera.  

 

And then: Security guard for TV news crew killed during Oakland robbery attempt

 

As mentioned above, we've been in touch with Roy Peck, CPJ, and some other filmmakers who've dealt with this stuff and have experience working with security people while filming sensitive stuff. We're planning for security, thinking of dropping some scenes, etc. And I'm one of the producers.

 

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Anyway: Take care of you and the other crew members. Don't get hurt!

 

Thanks. And yes, that's the primary goal.

 

But for JWS, I'm focusing on gathering advice about lowering our visual profile, reducing the cost of equipment that might get stolen (vs. my current Lectros), while still getting the sound and pix we need.

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The Rode WirelessGo has a latency of 6ms, not bad.  The Deity Pocket Wireless has 41ms by my test.  The AVX is 19ms to my understanding.  The WirelessGo II has recording capability at the TX but a cumbersome downloading procedure I'm told.  At least the recording is on the talent and unlikely to be stolen.  The Tentacle Track E also has that advantage.  An LA shooter friend was recently robbed in Oakland.  The robbers smashed a car window and took all the gear the crew wasn't packing.  The crew was in sight when this happened.  

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If I was in your shoes, I'd probably be using a kit formed out of a Zoom F6 + Rode NTG5 (or Deity S Mic 2) + Lectro 200 series wireless (with either OST or Deity lavs). 

Even old Lectro 200 series can still sound very good when used right, and their price secondhand are affordable enough it shouldn't give the production a heart attack if you need to bill them for losses (or even worse, the production company goes dark on you, and  you have to carry the financial burden of the loss yourself). 

Still using my 200 series now and then, most recently when on a racing boat so was concerned "what if" someone fell into the water. (although, put them in aquapacks as well)

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