camcorder and related equipment advice
I came across this forum doing a web search and it seems good so thought I could ask some advice.
I am an American living in Germany; I have a video background and have recently been contacted by a local health clinic about creating short videos for them (4-7 min). The thing is, my background goes way back and I'm not so up on the latest equipment - I shot in the late 80s & early 90s on professional equipment (i.e. Ikegami 55L camera) and spent many years as a broadcast TV video editor in NY (Grass Valley switchers, Sony 9000 editor, Abakus, Chyron, etc).
I've taught myself non-linear editing and because of my background that's really no problem (I'll probably use Premiere).
When it comes to the camera, tripod, mic(s), lights, etc, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage. My prospective client has a small budget (looks like 5000 EUR each for 3 videos) and they want me to buy the equipment with that budget. A lot of the videos will consist of animations and stock footage which need to be licensed (I'll need to license some music as well); I'll also shoot some mock discussions (real discussions between staff posing as clients) and show some of the location. I can do VOs myself. So here are some specific questions and I'm very open to concerns I may have left out:
For the camera itself, as much as I'd love to go pro or semi-pro, I'm thinking of going high-end prosumer because A) it's coming out of the budget that pays me and B) I don't think the highest quality is really necessary as the videos will mainly live on the client's website and youtube channel. (they've talked about offering them to local TV stations as a PR tool when related topics are in the news, and for this I'd render the highest quality possible, but that's really a secondary concern). I've heard that nowadays the quality has improved so much that these top-level prosumer camcorders look pretty damn good especially as the finished product will be seen on the web - am I really off on this?
For audio, I will need to shoot some conversations but never more than two people at a time. Can I get away with an externally connected shotgun mic on the camera or do I need to go with two Lavs (clip-ons) and have a separate mixer and recording medium (I assume the prosumer camera won't have more than 1 mic input, though it would be great if there were two). RE: voice-overs, could I use the shotgun mic for that (if the shotgun makes sense as I wrote above) or do I need a separate USB mic? I have mic stands already.
I want to make sure to get a good tripod as nothing bugs me more than fighting the tripod to get a smooth pan/tilt. I'll be shooting in pretty tight spaces so I don't think I need a dolly or sliders. Am I wrong on that?
Their lighting is pretty good so I was hoping to go without external lights. Saving the money is a concern, but also transportability. They told me that recently they started having a photographer who shoots in natural light and it's been working well. I also feel like as I'll be using staff and not real actors, they'll probably relax more without external lights on them. I've heard that the prosumer cameras adjust well to low light. True?
I have a decent pair of Audio-Technica headphones that are very comfortable and already have a mini/1/4" jack adapter, so I think that should be ok there.
I very much welcome feedback and gear suggestions, i.e. what camera (I was thinking panasonic, JVC or Sony), tripod and mic(s)/audio equipment to purchase. I would really like to keep the price for the gear under 1500 EUR (I realize many reading this may be rolling their eyes at this, but at much more the job just isn't worth it). I figure I'll make very little on the first one but more on the 2nd & 3rd and any subsequent videos that come along (they said there is a very good chance for more if these do well for their marketing department).
Thanks in advance for any opinions.
My usual first advice on such a project is to rent the camera instead of buying it, unless you're going to use it so often that owning is cheaper. You can usually rent a higher level camera than you can buy for the equivalent amount of money.
Good tripods are plentiful: Spend more time shopping for a pan head you like. These days I favor Sachtler, personally. You could economize by buying quality tripods and heads used from reputable sources.
As to the prosumer/pro distinction, today's technology brings the quality/price ratio to a new level. For the equivalent of what your "Handy-Looky" 55 used to cost in today's dollars, the equivalent would maybe be the RED or Alexa, which is likely overkill for corporate work like what you describe. Heck, you can buy a quite decent HD camcorder today for what you used to spend on just a lens alone, back in the 80's. If renting doesn't work for you, and considering your modest budget, you could buy a slightly used camera that's only a year or two old, and still give the client excellent quality. Think about maximizing the synergy between the camera you choose and your editing system. Make sure if Premiere's your favored tool, that it will play nice with whatever codecs you may shoot in. Think about how much storage you need, and you probably need portable storage to offload video from your memory cards, so you can keep shooting.
When you say something is "just for the web", that makes me want to be a tad argumentative, no offense. The web is the most important place to watch video today, and it is fully capable of delivering super-high HD quality images that people might watch in full-screen mode, even port over to their regular TV screens. Essentially everybody watching network shows off a DVR these days are watching "web" videos, depending on their provider service. The web audience is not a "lesser" audience in any sense of the word, than a broadcast TV audience, so there's really no reason to gear down the quality in any aspect of production. in fact, you WANT to gear UP the quality in most cases, so as to stand far above the unlit, shaky, muffled-audio look of the casual entry-level home hobbyist. You are projecting a corporate image here and it has to be one of professionalism and quality.
You need to present an assortment of resolutions so that the user experience is superior no matter if they are watching a postage stamp sized version off their phone, or a ten foot version on a projector.
Regarding your audio question, unless you have a dedicated boom operator manning the shotgun on a boom, then you had better plan to put lav mics on the people talking. On-camera shotguns offer okay sound only out to about six feet, in my experience, and they also give you too much room tone and ambiance along with the desired vocal material. As important as I just said the visual quality was, none of it is worth anything if it comes with crappy audio. Audiences forgive poor visuals as long as the audio is good and clear, but never the reverse. So do invest in lavs. They could be hardwired instead of wireless, or they can be hooked to small portable audio recorders hidden in a pocket, but DO independently mic the talent. For voice-overs, use one of the lavs, or get a basic dynamic cardioid like a Shure SM57 in the hundred-dollar range (less if used).
Instead of licensing music, consider one of the loop-based music composition programs like Sony ACID or Sonic Fire, because you can make customized music with them that will never suddenly need re-licensing someday.
Regarding your lighting comments. While it is true that today's cameras can do fabulously well in low or ambient lighting, that's not the only reason we light things in a video. Using only un-modified practical lighting, without enhancing it in any way, is like you trying to get all your key audio, just off the camera-mounted shotgun. No, even with ambient lighting, there are things we can employ like bounce cards and negative fill boards, to enhance the look, control contrast, and drive the eye where we need it to go, and these can be very cheap yet effective tools you DIY build from hardware store materials, or buy as purpose-made professional grip gear, or a combination. I would say at the very least, get a large portable softbox (I'm partial to the Lowel Rifalight series) for your interview shots, as it makes everyone look better, with a flattering wrap-around light that kills wrinkles and gives a healthy glow. I take with a grain of salt the comparison of what the still photographer delivers. Those shots are very likely adjusted a bit in photoshop before delivery, using software to do what live natural lighting didn't.
I invite you to ask your questions again in the COW's Corporate video forum and see if others agree with what I've suggested or not.
Thanks Mark for the great advice. I will absorb all this and also take your suggestion to post in the corporate videos forum.
Hi again Mark,
I've asked about this on a couple of forums and the advice to rent, not buy has been pretty consistent and I've taken that to heart.
I've found a great place here in Germany to rent from (recommended by a friend in the business); here is what I plan to rent, I'd love feedback and to know if any red flags come up, if I've missed anything, etc:
They also offer the Canon XF 300 - whixh is more expensive to rent - but the guy on the phone is recommending the Sony after hearing about my project. I'd rent an extra memory card and extra battery along with it.
Sachtler System FSB (fluid head)
Lights (I will rent these as well as the suggestions to rethink my idea to go with natural light have been overwhelming):
LED Leuchtfläche 1000 - obviously this is German and I haven't found out the English word for Leuchtfläche (other than an illuminated area), but it is 1000 watts and can be dimmed. Seems somewhat similar to a lightbox (though not exactly). I'll rent some foils along with it.
Two Sennheiser EW 112-C G3 clipon wireless mics. The Sony camera has two mic inputs so the guy at the rental place is saying I don't need a Zoom. These take standard AA batteries.
I'd also rent a memory card reader to ensure I can get what I shoot off the camera into Premiere Elements.
Also have one more question, although I'm a musician and have mic stands and SM-57s & 58s (as well as other, better mics), I'm using a mac mini which does not accept analog line audio (strange I know). It's a powerful little computer and I don't expect any issues with memory or ram, but it only accepts a usb mic input. So for VOs, I will either need a USB mic (any recommendations?) or do the VO (doing that myself) with the camera. This of course limits the ability to make quick changes once I've given the rental camera back. Thoughts?
Thanks again, very much appreciated.