Let me say first off that I’m not a film maker, but I’ve developed a huge interest in film making, video, whatever you want to call it, mainly to record the activities that happen in Gippsland as well as those that I undertake, such as our High Country Cruises. Photography is still one medium that I use, but I’ve increasingly tried to expand that to video. I think I’ve pointed out previously that I was never interested in video in the past and that none of my cameras were really that great for video. All that has changed and things have certainly moved on. I’ve already started to include videos that I’ve posted on YouTube and I thought, in this COVID age and for what it’s worth, to include a section covering YouTube videos that I’ve made about video gear that I use.
A slider is a device that allows you to attach a video camera and then move the camera side to side or backwards and forwards smoothly and precisely for interesting video effects, and can create a sense of movement where there isn’t any. Sliders come in many different forms and sizes, from small units no longer than a standard ruler and weighing a kilogram or so, to behemoths metres long and weighing tens of kilograms (in many respects you could consider a dolly a slider). Like tripods and gimbals, sliders are typically designed to suit specific camera weight ranges with some only capable of carrying a few hundred or so grams, to ones that can carry 100kg or more. Sliders also come in various operating configurations, manually operated or motorised, with the more sophisticated (read expensive) ones able to be operated via a mobile phone app or through built-in controls to provide all manner of sliding options. There are also sliders that can double their effective length through clever mechanics.
In my quest to learn more about video production, for the last year or so, I’ve been avidly scouring YouTube and the internet in general for sites that provide information, examples, reviews and personal rundowns on video production. Early on I was looking for information on gear needed for video production, cameras, audio, lighting and accessories. I wasn’t looking just for gear reviews, but for candid opinions on gear that actual videographers/film makers were using or had used and how they found them in real use. In doing so I found some very good YouTube channels and started to follow them with interest. Once I pretty much had my gear sorted out, I started to look for more sites that dealt with producing videos, as well as editing videos, and once again came across a number that I still follow. As I’ve noted before, YouTube can be a double-edged sward with good and bad results and sometimes more choice than you can handle.
Way back in 2017 I wrote my first part of Making Movies and what I saw lying ahead for me in this new endeavour. Looking back at that story and subsequent ones, I realised that I hadn’t fully explained why I wanted to produce video as an adjunct or, at times, replacement for stills photography and what prompted me to buy what was a cinema camera. Part of my reasoning was that I was finding my stills photography becoming a bit stale and motivation to go out with my camera was waning. I used to carry a camera with me at all times, but found that I was increasingly leaving it at home when going out. The other reason for a cinema camera was that I wanted my documentary work to show something more than what still images could display and my existing cameras weren’t ideal for video. Even though static images can be very powerful and engaging, I’d come to realise that there are some significant advantages when trying to convey a story with video. Moving pictures really do add another dimension to a story.
Since becoming increasingly interested in video in a more dedicated way, I’ve been watching many movies, short films, reviews and the like over the last year learning about techniques and styles, as well as all the other aspects such as audio that makes for good movies. during that time, there are several trends that have come to light (pun intended) about modern movies and even TV shows, and and one such trend is that many are now extremely dark and foreboding when it comes to the overall lighting. This was really brought home when I watched some videos comparing the modern Star Trek movie series and the new TV show named The Orville. The latter has taken a lot of ideas from the original Star Trek series and brought back the general storylines that the early series represented in its day, but has added a modern twist. I won’t go into these aspects here, try and watch some episodes if you haven’t, But what also grabbed me was how very different the actual production values and storyline are when compared to modern movies or TV series, notably Star Trek.
First off, I’ve written a few time now about my trials and tribulations with audio to accompany my videos and pointed out some things that have worked and other things that have not. As I’ve mentioned previously, you can have a somewhat crappy movie with great audio and it’ll be watchable, but a great movie with crappy audio is completely unwatchable. If you’ve ever come across a YouTube video where the sound quality is just awful, you’ll know what I mean. We’ve watched many an old movie that’s been copied and put up on YouTube where the image quality isn’t the greatest, but the movie has been watchable because the audio has been reasonably decent; you can understand what’s being spoken and the music is fine. Quite the opposite to some others that get switched off in seconds. Audio has such an impact on movies and video in general that it’s one area where you have to get it right as there’s little room for error.
In an earlier story about the ongoing development of my cinema rig, I posted a video where I used green screen technique to introduce a background to what would have otherwise been a bland setting (with Winter afoot, nothing outside is looking that great). This ‘green screen’ technique is as old as the hills, but previously has been less than accessible to most people with a video camera. The green screen material has certainly been readily available, but the video processing software has not been quite so easy to come by and, where available, has often been expensive. But with new software options and especially software such as Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve, it’s pretty much available to anyone who wants to experience this frequently used Hollywood technique. And frequently used is an understatement, as just about every film made nowadays involves some or a lot of green screen technique.
The more video I do (or practice), the more audio comes into play and problems need to be resolved. I’ve already spoken about the issue with low audio volume when using external microphones (mics) with the BMPCC4K and the way I went about trying to get better audio. But the issues didn’t end there, I was now becoming frustrated when using Lav mics and recording to an external recorder, whether the Olympus or the El-Cheapo. The major problem was forgetting to turn on either the external audio recorder, start the audio recording or synchronise the audio with the clicker, or forgetting to do all three. So as I read more articles and watched more videos about wireless mics, especially Lavalier (Lav) mics, it became clear that I would be better of with a wireless mic where the receiver could connect directly to the camera audio input. This meant no synchronising in the video editor, saving time and the need for separate (and expensive) audio synchronising tools.
Again, the more things change the more they seem to stay the same, sort of. As I get to use and practice with the BMPCC4K and the rig, there are small and not so small issues that arise and which need to be addressed. One thing that I’ve been waiting impatiently for is for someone to produce a small and affordable Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). But, sadly, no one has yet taken up the challenge and so the only option was to get a larger and brighter field monitor. And, as I started to use more lenses with the camera, I found that changing the position of the follow focus and matte box introduced its own problems, so more things to remedy. Additionally, I really wanted to have a slider with me when I went on our bush trips, but the 120cm one I had was simply too cumbersome to take along, so that issue also needed to be addressed. While some of these appeared to be minor issues, some ended up being quite annoying in the long run.
There’s long been an saying that goes along the lines of ‘you get what you pay for’, or another similar saying being ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. Such sayings (like most sayings) generally come from practical experience and of course many others abound. But the gist of such sayings has generally held true over the years; however, is that always the case? I think much depends on the products concerned, who makes them and where they are made, especially in today’s world where it’s possible to manufacture and buy from just about anywhere. Product quality has also changed dramatically with new technology, materials and manufacturing processes, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. So the quality of a product often belies the past conventions of where they are made. Recently I had an interesting discussion, though not for the first time, about this subject and it made me look a bit deeper into how much this applies in today’s world where it’s not always fair to assume that ‘you get what you pay for’.