Video Gear Steps Outside the Studio

The right gear makes the difference
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The crew at Suburban Community Channels in Minneapolis

Minnesota’s Suburban Community Channels (SCC TV) provides a vast range of community programming via Comcast cable to a number of cities and towns within the Ramsey/Washington area. Operated by the Ramsey/Washington Suburban Cable Commission, SCC runs eight channels, but produces a total of 17.

The reason: SCC’s GTN 16 (Government Television Network; local council meetings, government services and local community groups) is tailored for each municipality it serves. Meanwhile, RWTV 18 (Ramsey/Washington TV) offers NASA and United Nations programming, plus local and regionally produced content. On Location TV19 features on-location content shot by SCC’s professional staff, covering everything from local sporting events, plays and concerts to high school graduations and community parades. Reflecting SCC’s move to HD in the field, On Location 19 has just launched in HD on Comcast channel 801.

With all this content to shoot, having the right TV gear on hand is vital to fulfilling SCC’s busy production schedule. So we asked Michael Simonds, SCC’s technical lead, to tell GV what his crews carry as their “gear on the go”―not their cameras, but everything else. (SCC’s studio is currently transitioning from analog NTSC to digital HDTV, with their studios, truck, and council chambers still using SD.)

WHAT SCC’s CREWS ARE PACKING

So what are Suburban Community Channels’ crews taking on the road these days? A lot of things, Simonds said. Pressed for details, he responded with a good sampling of what SCC’s shooters are using.

On the audio side, SCC crews use Lectrosonics wireless mic systems and Sennheiser shotgun mics. To be specific, they are relying on Lectrosonics SR Series dual-channel slot-mount ENG receivers. One of these units fits into a standard video camera slot and provides two independent wireless channels that can connect to two wireless microphones.

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Sennheiser MKE600 shotgun mic

Meanwhile, audio is captured by Sennheiser ME 66 shotgun microphones connected to wireless transmitters. The ME 66 is a super-cardioid unit that is highly directional, with high sensitivity and low self-generated noise; making it perfect for shooting sports events and other out-of-studio happenings.

“I’ll never run and gun without one,” said SCC crew member Scott Jenbsen. “The on-camera mic blends sound into a monotonous heap.”

To ensure adequate DC power at all times, SCC uses IDX Endura E-HL9 and Frezzi FLB-100V batteries. The IDX Endura E-HL9 is a lithium-ion battery that can support a continuous draw of up to 10 amps, and can be mated to a second E-HL9 using IDX’s PowerLink technology to double its capacity to 176 Wh for longer run times and high power needs.

The Frezzi FLB-100V is a lithium ion battery that delivers 14.8 VDC and has a 100Wh capacity.

For lighting, SCC crews use a Lowel Pro with Rifa eX light box and Flexfill reflectors. The Lowel provides quick-to-deploy soft lighting in both key or fill uses, while the Flexfill reflectors make it easy to redirect emitted light to light up dark spots.

“Shooting a standup on a sunny day?” said Jenbsen. “A reflector takes the image from zero to hero pretty quick.”

SCC’s crews use the Satchler SpeedLock 75 tripod with DV8 head and the Edelkrone slider with Kessler MVH500H head. The staff find the Speedlock 75 to be lightweight yet stable, while the Edelkrone slider allows the camera operator to smoothly move the camera from side to side to add movement to an otherwise static scene.

MORE INFO Edelkrone: www.edelkrone.com

Flexfill: www.bhphotovideo.com

Frezzi: www.frezzi.com

GoPro: www.gopro.com

IDX: www.idxtek.com

Lectrosonics: www.lectrosonics.com

Lowel: lowel.tiffen.com

Miller Camera Support: www.millertripods.com

PAG: www.paguk.com

Prompter Pro: ipad-software.smartphoneware.com

Røde: www.rodemic.com

Sachtler: www.sachtler.com

Sennheiser: www.sennheiser.com

Shure: www.shure.com

For prompting, the crews use consumer iPads loaded with Prompter Pro software. This provides a low-cost yet efficient way to create professional on-camera deliveries anywhere. And they do take one extra camera in their kit; notably the GoPro Hero 3 Plus. This is a rugged, waterproof, wearable tiny HD camera that is perfect for capturing action sequences.

“It allows me to capture the story from unique perspectives,” said SCC crew member Jeff Melcoch.

Finally, SCC’s crews haul their equipment around on Gruv Gear Karts. These are lightweight, foldable tubular metal carts that can be used in a variety of configurations.

“You need the right gear to do the job right,” said Simonds. “That’s what we have here.”

A BASIC CHECKLIST

The specific makes and models of gear chosen by SCC’s crews are not written in stone. However, what is reasonably inflexible is the basic type of gear that crews should have at hand.

Miles Larsen is the government access program coordinator for the City of Sarasota, Fla. The city operates Access 19 TV, which carries city and county meetings, as well as informational programs on Comcast cable channel 19 and on the city’s web site.

According to Larsen, a properly-equipped “gear on the go” kit should have a “tripod, wireless microphone and replacement batteries for wireless; in my case 9-Volt,” he said. “It should also have a wired lavaliere and a wired stick microphone, headphones, and XLR cable.”

“You should also have at least one Frezzi camera light, a stand light with umbrella, two extra camera batteries and an AC power supply for the camera,” Larsen said. “And don’t forget a lens polarizer for high-light conditions, and lens wipes.”

SUGGESTIONS

Need gear ideas for your field kit? Here are some good ones:

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PAGlink 3-Stud battery

PAG has developed a linked battery system that is designed to provide camera crews with continuous DC power, rather than having to break the shoot while swapping out one battery for another. Known as PAGlink, this system physically links (connects) two 94-Watt-hour PAGlink batteries to combine their capacity.

This provides 188 W-h of power, and “results in a longer run-time than two batteries used consecutively,” said Steve Emmett, PAG’s publicity manager. “It also increases the current draw capability from 10 Amps to 12 Amps. That’s enough to power simultaneously your camera and multiple accessories, such as a fill-light and a transmission device.”

One cool feature: The PAGlink design allows up to eight batteries to be linked together at any one time for charging or discharging.

“The battery connected directly to the camera becomes the master of the network,” Emmett said. “It communicates with the camera to determine the load and then adds batteries to the power rail, depending on their state of charge, to meet the demand.”

This system does not discharge one battery into another, but it does allows batteries to be hot-swapped or added for continuous power.

Want a lightweight yet stable tripod? Consider Miller Camera Support’s Air Tripod System range, which is offered in both metal alloy (#3001; 10.8 lbs) and carbon fiber (#3005; 9.9 lbs) models. Aimed at the HDV and DSLR pro market, Air Tripods have adjustable retractable legs and an Air Fluid Head.

Using a magnesium alloy housing and precision components, the Air Fluid Head comes with two positions of selectable counterbalance and a dual pan handle option. The 3001 can support payloads ranging from 5.5 to 11 lbs., while the 3005 can handle 4.4 to 11 lbs.

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Røde VideoMic

The right microphones are crucial for any successful field shot. Forget your mics, and you’ll be shooting silent movies―or trying to explain to your boss why the audio you did manage to get sounds so bad.

Røde has two quick set-up, highly portable audio solutions for gear on the go. The smartLav+ is a clip-on professional omnidirectional microphone that plugs into a smartphone/tablet headphone jack. It works best using the Røde Rec app for iOS, which turns the iOS device into a fully-featured field recorder. Meanwhile, the VideoMic GO is a camera shoe-mounted directional microphone that grabs the sound in front, and reduces everything from the sides and back. It comes with an integrated Rycote Lyre thermoplastic shock mount that isolates the mic from bumps and vibrations that could otherwise add noise to the sound.

Sennheiser makes two shotgun microphones―the MKE 400 and the MKE 600―that would be good additions to any kits. The MKE-400 is a rugged shotgun that mounts directly on a camera’s lighting shoe, and has a cable and standard plug to connect directly to the camera.

With the ability to reject side noise and capture what’s right in front of it, the MKE 400 can provide far clearer, more usable camera-sourced audio than a stock camera mic. Meanwhile, the MKE 600 is a larger shotgun that can be mounted onto a camera chassis. It provides even more gain and directionality than the MKE 400, in an albeit longer package.

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Shure VP83F LensHopper Microphone

Shure also makes compact on-camera shotgun mics; one of which has its own built-in Flash audio recorder. The Shure VP83 and VP83F (with Flash recorder onboard) LensHopper camera-mount microphones mount on the lighting shoes of both camcorders and dSLR cameras.

Both Shure LensHopper mics use ultra-compact condenser shotgun elements protected by isolation suspension systems developed by Shure and Rycote (a specialist in microphone suspension and noise suppression systems). Both are immune to RF interference, and have directional supercardioid/lobar polar patterns to reject unwanted off-axis audio; in other words, the VP83/VP83F capture the sound in front of them, and reject everything else.

Need wireless connectivity for mics? Shure’s FP wireless belt-worn transmitters are small, tough, and have a 24 MHz tuning bandwidth; allowing 12 of them to be used per band (up to 20 when using multiple bands).

THE MORAL

Have a properly-equipped field kit, and your life as a videographer will go fine. Travel without one, and disaster will catch up to you eventually.

One free hint: To make a table mic stand in a hurry, repurpose a styrofoam cup. Punch a hole wide enough for your stick mic at the narrow end on the bottom. Punch another small-sized hole on the other side of the cup near the top. Invert the cup, insert your mic, add the cable, and voila: instant table mic stand!

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