I’ve been doing a lot of “dual-cam” documentary shooting over the last several months. By dual-cam, I mean filming two angles at once by operating two handheld cameras. The main advantage of this is being able to record both characters in a dialog scene simultaneously; otherwise I would either need to hire a second operator, or I would have to use editing tricks to conceal whip pans between the subjects. While I wouldn’t recommend shooting this way for anything but the most bare-bones of docu work (and it certainly wouldn’t make much sense for narrative work), it can be an invaluable skill when shooting vérité as a one-man crew.
I will discuss my production gear in this entry. Part Two will cover the camera settings and shooting techniques. Part Three will detail my post-production workflow.
I use two Sony RX100‘s. I have already blogged extensively about these amazing little cameras. They are extremely small, shoot ultra-sharp 1080p60 (which can be conformed to 30p or 24p or used as slow-motion), use a larger-than-average 1″ sensor for shallow DOF and excellent lowlight performance, and they allow full manual control and programmable buttons.
I keep a 64gb class 10 SD card in each camera. This holds about 5hrs 20mins of 1080p60 footage.
I power my cameras internally with 1600mAh batteries. They have a slightly greater capacity than the 1240mAh Sony batteries. Expect to get roughly 40 mins recording time per battery. Note that the battery life readout is not 100% accurate – the discharge is quite rapid after the first notch on the display disappears.
For more extensive shooting, I have another battery solution: the PowerGen 8400mAh External Battery Pack, which easily lasts me through an entire day of shooting (and doubles as an Android phone charger to boot!). I attach one of these to each arm via an iPhone armband and connect it to the camera with a retractable USB cable. When I’m not using the RX100’s, I disconnect them from the cables and keep the cameras on my belt in neoprene soft cases.
Portable power supply and retractable USB cable
Note that I usually receive an overheating warning from my camera when recording takes longer than 10 minutes, but so far I have only had once incident where the camera actually shut down and forced me to let it cool. I was filming on a beach in 90-degree weather for over an hour with almost no pauses (though the camera only allows 30mins per take).
For primary sound, I continue to use my “wireless” portable recorder/lavalier method (click to read). I carry two of these in a fanny pack.
For additional sound, I use the MemQ MR720 portable recorder. These record at a lower fidelity than the lavaliers, so I use them only for spontaneous situations, such as strangers who might be offended by my attempts to run a wire up their shirt. Or if someone is trying on different outfits quickly, etc.
I rarely use lighting of any kind. I almost never shoot formal interviews, and the RX100’s can handle almost any natural lighting situation. However, for the rare pitch-black situation, I do carry a tiny Sima LED light. It’s not extremely bright or wide, but it packs quite a punch for the size and requires no external batteries. Its color temperature is roughly 41ook, which balances decently to mixed indoor/outdoor lighting, which makes it useful for daylight fill. To diffuse the light a bit, I put a few layers of Scotch tape over the LED’s. This goes in my fanny pack along with a mini-gorillapod.
I hate paper, which is why I have just started using the “Fill and Sign PDF Forms” app on my Android phone. I first create a fillable PDF form with Adobe Acrobat Pro, then I import it into the app and let people type and sign their info. Then I share it to my Google Drive for an instant cloud backup. I then take a quick snapshot of the person’s ID card with my camera phone and share that to Google Drive as well.
Next I’ll discuss camera settings and shooting techniques. Stay tuned for Part Two.