A TEXT POST

The Better-Than-Starter Video Kit

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My video students at Columbia Journalism School are trained on the Canon C100.  It is a great camera, but the $5K+ price tag makes it impossible for most to purchase one for themselves.  Also, that figure does not include microphones, tripods, and other accessories necessary to produce professional-quality video.

With some compromises in ergonomics and picture quality, the list of gear below should be an affordable alternative for any video student or recent grad.  This gear will give you high-quality visuals, clean sound, and reliable stabilization.  I hesitate to call this a starter kit, as you can shoot a feature documentary with this set up.

Camera:  The conventional wisdom with video gear is to invest in lenses and peripherals.  These items will last you years, while cameras get updated and replaced constantly.  I still recommend DSLRs for video journalists starting out.  They are cheap.  Their sensors are big, the low-light performance is fantastic, and they double as great stills cameras (ironically, an often overlooked benefit).  I have years of experience with Canon gear, so I recommend their products.  But Sony, Panasonic, and others all offer up great solutions.  Shop around.  This is a great time to buy.

I recommend two entry-level DSLRs to my students.  The Canon T5i w/ EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens and the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 w/  EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens.  The T5i has a flip-out screen, but the SL1 is smaller.  In terms of image quality, they are the same.  My SL1 is so small that I can comfortably carry it with me everywhere I go.

If you can afford it, I recommend getting the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens.  This is my go-to lens for all my documentary work.  It is pricey, but it is a great investment.  You will grow with this lens.  If you do purchase the 24-105, be sure to get the Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLR Camera (Body Only) or Canon EOS Rebel SL1 DSLR Camera (Body Only) to save some money.

Do not forget to buy some extra batteries for your shoots.  You can go for the more expensive Canon option or save some money going with a third-party brand.  And be sure to get protective filters for your lenses:  the Tiffen 58mm UV Protector Filter for the kit lens or the Tiffen 77mm UV Protector Filter for the 24-105 lens.

Audio:  The most important part of producing great video is getting great audio.  Audio gear can be very expensive and there are many options on the market.  But the gear below was specifically designed to work with DSLRs.  This set up will transform your DSLR into a fully-functioning video camera:  

Your mics go into the DR-60D and then that signal is fed into the camera.  Or, when you really want to just go small and stealth, the Rode VideoMic Pro can plug directly into your DSLR (as pictured above).  Also, the Tascam DR-60D can be used alone as a great field audio recorder.

My most expensive audio recommendation is the Sony ECM-77B - Lavalier Microphone.  This is the microphone I use for all my interviews.  It plugs directly into the DR-60D.  There are much cheaper lav mics available, but IMHO, the low audio quality is not worth the savings.

Support:  You need a good tripod and monopod to get steady shots.  Tripods go from super cheap to insanely expensive.  I recommend spending a little more now for gear that will last you years.  I always shoot with the Manfrotto Fluid Monopod with 500 Series Head and Manfrotto MVH500AH Fluid Head & 755XB Tripod.  They are not the cheapest options, but you will have them for years.

Accessories:  Be sure to get enough memory cards for your shoots.  And invest in the Pelican 0915 Memory Card Case to store your precious footage.

I hope this list helps.

Happy shooting,

Duy

A TEXT POST

Three Tips for Getting a Video Production Job

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Fifteen years ago, I went to journalism school to become a Cameron Crowe-style music reporter:  lots of think pieces about mid-level bands.  But somewhere in the months before graduation, I abandoned the written word and fell in love with video storytelling.  I had neither the looks nor the desire to be on camera, but I instantly fell for shooting and editing.  And since graduation, I’ve been lucky enough to earn a decent buck producing videos.

As the end of this school year approaches, many of my J-School students are worried about getting jobs.  They are laying out beautiful resumes and putting together Wordpress portfolios with slick Snow Fall-esque themes.  Over the years, I’ve been in the fortunate position of hiring crews to work with me on various projects.  The resumes and sites my students are obsessing over are gorgeous, but I can’t remember an instance when either of these things compelled me to give someone a job.  

What makes me want to hire a shooter, a producer, or an editor?  I’ll admit a lot of it is pure nepotism:  I hire my friends.  Lucky for me, my friends are some of the best in the business.  But, there are many times when I have to test the waters and use some new folks.  So, what do I (and presumably others looking for talent) want in a hire?  Really, only three things:

1.  You Have Real Skills.  I don’t care if your work has appeared on the New York Times site or only on your personal Vimeo page.  I don’t care if your videos have been seen by millions or dozens.  I just care that your videos are good.  I care that you know how to:  compose beautiful images, properly expose footage, manage color, shoot complete sequences, get good sound in the field, manage media, and edit compelling stories.  Your producer title at CNN and internship at The New Yorker mean absolutely nothing to me if you don’t have any real skills.

2.  You’ve Done A Lot of Work.  I don’t care if you graduated from Columbia Journalism School or never even went to college.  I don’t care if you’re a “professional” or just learning the trade.  I do care deeply if you have a big body of work.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve only produced student projects, practice exercises, or spec videos.  If you work constantly (a story a week as Ira Glass suggests), I will know that you are committed to the craft of video storytelling.  You’ve already made a lot mistakes and you’ve learned a lot on your own.  More importantly, it shows that you’re not afraid to make more mistakes and you are willing to learn even more.  I meet many people who think video production is fun and exciting work.  It can be.  But most of the time, it is just brutally exhausting.  A big body of work helps me separate the dedicated ones from the posers.

3.  You Are Not a Dick.  Video production is not a 9-to-5 job.  It’s long hours in uncomfortable environments crushed under tight deadlines. And things go wrong all the time.  I’ve learned to deal with and manage all this.  But what I can’t stand to have on any of my shoots is a sour attitude or an overblown ego.  Being polite is Rule #1 (Polite = “Please” and “Thank you.”).  Being on time and reliable is Rule #2.  Having a great sense of humor is Rule #3.  It’s really not more complicated than that.

Be careful:  this is a small, small world.  If you were a dick to someone, then most likely word has gotten around.  I am grateful whenever someone warns me about potential personnel problems.  And I’ve never hesitated to put dicks on blast.  Also, sexist, racist and homophobic jokes on set aren’t cute.  Go there, and you’ll will never work with me again.

And that’s it.  Pretty simple.  So, instead of spending time deciding on Helvetica or Arial, you should grab your camera and go out and make something now.  Each and every time you shoot or edit, you get better. I (and others hiring) will be able to see your improvement with each video you post.  You don’t need to be an expert.  But if you have shown a commitment to getting better, then there’s no doubt I want you on my team.

Happy shooting,

Duy

A TEXT POST

Video Now Report: The State of Video Journalism

From October, 2013 until February, 2014, Abbey Adkison and I visited newsrooms across the United States to interview and observe reporters and editors producing video journalism. Video has become an important editorial tool, as well as a potentially large revenue source for newsrooms. But, as of the fall of 2013, there seemed to be no consensus on how to produce news videos or how to profit from them. With that in mind, Video Now, funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, set out to answer three main questions:

⋅ How do news organizations define video?
⋅ How do they produce video?
⋅ What is their return on investment?

For this report, Video Now called and emailed more than 125 news organizations to gather information about their editorial strategies, revenue models, and measures of success. We avoided established broadcast and cable news networks. Instead, we focused on newsrooms without a long history of video production. We wanted to explore the opportunities and challenges facing newspapers, digital-first organizations, and long-form video producers as they compete for online traffic. As expected, most organizations were not forthcoming with specific metrics; many said that they were still in the early stages of developing their video teams and strategies. We asked for specific metrics such as plays, page views and revenue, but only a few newsrooms would give us exact numbers.

We invited more than 50 newsrooms to participate in this video report, but most declined requests to allow our cameras into their newsrooms. We were eventually granted access to: FRONTLINE The Washington Post The Seattle Times The Detroit Free Press ,Mashable NowThis News Vice NewsNPRMediaStorm, and the Chicago Sun-Times . We acquired data when possible – page views, plays, viewer drop-off – but we soon realized that metrics are incomplete or inconsistently measured across organizations. When we did obtain statistics, we included them in the report where appropriate. But we relied primarily on interviews. In all, we interviewed, on-camera, over 40 producers, editors, and reporters involved in video production. Each interview ranged from 30 to 90 minutes. We spent one to two full days in each newsroom and were given complete access to shoot the day-to-day activities of these organizations. With the exception of The Washington Post , we worked directly with video journalists and avoided dealing with public relations personnel altogether (The Washington Post  had a PR representative present during interviews).

Newsrooms were surprisingly candid on the question of revenue and return on investment. None of the newspapers we visited are making any profit on their videos, and most describe themselves as in a state of investment and development. These newsrooms do earn some revenue on pre-roll advertising, but they are operating at a deficit when compared to the total cost of video production. However, at this stage, newsrooms are more focused on building their under-resourced production teams with the intention of increasing content production. The Seattle Times  only has two video editors; the Chicago Sun-Times  has four multimedia producers and will be hiring four more this spring; and Mashable, a successful and influential social-focused site, only had three full-time producers when we visited them.

Along with building their teams, news organizations are also heavily focused on increasing traffic. Mashable hopes to get, on average, 1.6 million total video views each month on Youtube. At this level, they will be able to increase their advertising rates and flexibility. But this will mean that they will have to produce more videos and get more viewers to watch each one. Mashable  hopes to get at least 20,000 views per video, while occasionally producing a million-view viral hit. Newspapers get far fewer video views than sites such as Mashable . On average, a single video on a newspaper site will get anywhere from 500 to 1000 plays. But at the current CPMs of $10 to $20, pre-roll alone does not seem to be a viable strategy for most local publications going forward.

Four of the organizations we visited did not rely on traditional advertising or pre-roll for revenue. FRONTLINE  receives funding from foundations and viewers. Like, FRONTLINE NPR also raises money from funders and audience donations. MediaStorm has a five-point revenue strategy that includes pay-per-view, training, software licensing, syndication, and client work. Vice, even with more than 4.5 million subscribers on Youtube, still makes much of its money on sponsored content. These organizations are all operating in the black, and they hint at possible models for other news organizations.

Video Now  is divided into five sections: Purpose & Methodology, Newspapers, Digital, Long Form, and Recommendations. One caveat: video news departments iterate constantly (sometimes monthly), so the information and analysis presented here will age quickly. But, as of Spring 2014, this is an accurate look at the video strategies of leading newspapers, digital organizations, and long form video news producers.

See the full report at: videonow.towcenter.org

A TEXT POST

Fixing C100 Audio Problems

In my last post, I showed you how to turn the Sony A7 into a fully functional video camera using the Sound Devices MixPre-D Mixer. In this video, I show you how to improve audio handling on the Canon C100 using MixPre-D as well.

The C100 is a great camera (great ergonomics, great lowlight performance), but it suffers in terms of the audio controls.  The gain dials on the camera’s top handle are awkward to manage, especially in run-and-gun situations.  By adding the MixPre-D, you’ll be able to manage and monitor audio going into the C100 much more easily and effectively.

Here’s the full list of gear you’ll need:

Canon C100

Sound Devices MixPre-D Mixer

Sound Devices XL3 Cable

Happy shooting,

Duy

A TEXT POST

Adding XLR Inputs to the Sony A7 with the Sound Devices MixPre-D

The Sony A7 is a fantastic camera for stills.  It is even better for video.  The A7 has many features that shooters are looking for in high-end video cameras:  peaking, zebras, audio meters, microphone input, headphone jack, and an articulating screen.  The biggest downside of the A7 is its lack of XLR inputs.  You can not connect high-quality microphones to the camera or manage audio levels easily.  Sound Devices’s MixPre-D is the answer to this problem.   

Here is a quick tutorial on how connect the A7 and MixPre-D to create a fully-functioning video camera.  This set up allows you to connect two microphones with XLR connections, manage audio levels with real knobs (rather than buttons or menu items), and monitor the audio that you are recording.

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First, you need to get this gear:

Sony Alpha a7 Mirrorless Digital Camera with FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Lens

Sound Devices MixPre-D Compact Field Mixer

Sound Devices XL3 Mini Male to TA3-F Connector Cable

Hosa Technology Stereo Mini Angled Male to Stereo Angled Mini Male Cable - 8

Step 1:  Mount the Sony A7 to the MixPre-D using the MixPre-D’s bracket.

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Step 2:  Connect the XL3 cable to the MixPre-D’s unbalanced out jack.

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Step 3:  Connect the miniplug side of the XL3 cable into the A7’s microphone jack.

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Step 4:  Connect the mini-to-mini cable to the A7’s headphone jack.

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Step 5:  Connect the other end of the mini-to-mini cable to the MixPre-D’s Tape Return.  This will allow you to monitor what’s being recorded into the A7 and to adjust the headphone volume on the MixPre-D.

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Step 6.  Send slate tone from the MixPre-D to the A7 to make sure the A7’s internal gain levels are at the appropriate level.  Now, you have a fully functioning camera that shoots great video and records high-quality audio.

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I love this set up.  It is light, compact, and allows you to record high-quality audio into your MixPre-D without having to sync audio later.

Happy Shooting.

- Duy

Photos: Adam Perez