Handheld Filmmaking with Dual Cameras, Part One: Production Gear

dual-cam shooting

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.

Cameras

rx100

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

Portable power supply and retractable USB cable

cable retracted

Cable retracted

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).

Audio

"wireless" lav mic

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.

 mini voice recorder MemoQ Mr720

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.

Lighting

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.

Legal Releases

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.

Run, Gun, Share!
    Latest Comments
    1. Bob Krist

      Thanks for this series, Brandon. Most informative for those of us who have to shoot on the fly by ourselves. Looking forward to the next installments.

      • Mike

        Hey Brandon. This is a fantastic blog! Love your minimalist approach but hi quality results with video. I concur that I’d like to see more on this topic. I think perhaps you stumbled on a broader topic, which is your gear list or full kit. Regardless of a category to identify it I’m become a big fan and eagerly await more posts. Cheers.

    2. Dave

      This is awesome, can’t wait till I’ve got a rig assembled. I got gorillapods, xshot, dual RX100’s and LAV mice, just need some external charges and an iPad with a release form.

      Sweet.

    3. Yannick

      I have been reading your post on your gear, but it says that you don’t really shoot formal interviews so you dont really bother about the lighting. I want to shoot formal interviews and make videos like these:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0JD5PBTx64
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyASjzHiNnI

      What do you recommend me then?

      • Brandon Li

        The first video could have been shot with just window light and a couple bounce cards. You might want to invest in something like the Manfrotto Magic Arm to keep it angled properly. The second interview would require a three-point lighting setup (three lights).

        I own something like this: http://www.ephotoinc.com/2400-watt-continuous-fluorescent-cfl-light-softbox-light-lighting2400.html

        I don’t use it much, as most of my work is naturally lit. But it does provide a pleasing (if bulky) lighting solution for a very low price. But I would recommend using window light whenever possible and filling in shadows with a bounce card.

    4. dalas v

      Very cool article. Looking forward to the followups.

      • Brandon Li

        Thanks, I’ve been lagging a bit on the subsequent posts because I intend to shoot some footage to show how the dual-cam approach intercuts.

    5. Jimmy

      Hey Brandon,

      Love the blog. Quick gear question, is there a preferred camera holder you use for car cam with a CSC like the RX100?

      There are lotsa suction cup ones on amazon but wondering if you had any ideas…

      Also have you done any timelapse work with the RX100 and if so how?

      Keep up the awesome work!

      • Brandon Li

        I have not done a car mount with the Rx100 (I’m assuming you mean car interior), but I’d recommend something like this gooseneck camera mount. You want a mount that leaves the back of the camera exposed so you can adjust settings.

        I’ve never done timelapse with the cam but here’s one DIY solution I found on vimeo.

        Let me know what you find!

    6. Dave

      I ordered the above stuff so I can get long record times without the battery dying but the armbands you suggested aren’t usable. They waaaay too small to fit the powergen chargers into.

      If you know which ones you did get that’d be awesome but this is also a good FYI to others who plan to get this same sweet setup.

      -D

    7. Geoff

      Hi Brandon, wonderful article, very inspiring. Just a note however, that on my browser (firefox), the above article displays incorrectly (because of the wide top image, the text of the article overlaps with the right side panel) and is hard to read. Cheers! Geoff

    8. Gabriel Tejeda

      This is such a great article and I found your MTV one that you posted on Reddit (however, it’s not on there anymore) and I can’t wait to read your next articles, I hope you’ll write them soon enough.

      Thanks for the good blog!

    9. Achim

      Great article… I’m pretty sure you can also get a handheld look when filming yourself. Wrote an article about the techniques a while ago http://thevrincent.blogspot.com/2013/09/how-to-get-handheld-look-when-filming.html

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