Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Kit for Malawi


Shortly, I will be in fairly remote parts of Malawi shooting stills and video for a book and documentary about reproductive matters (family planning, HIV-AIDS, sociology of sex). It will be dry, with moderate temperatures. Although usually a 35mm film shooter(for many years), I have recently used the Panasonic DVX100 for a few days and think well of it...and expect that the new model must be somewhat better, given the specs in the adds. But what do I know?

Having not made documentaries in many years, I would like to ask for suggestions about basic kit (and any other advice you might offer). Is the Panasonic the camera of choice (for an older man often working alone? What format to shoot in (TV being the likely outlet, with possible but unlikely film output)? Would you shoot 16x9?...with or without the supplementary squeeze lens? What sound kit?...I will be allied with large academic study group for general support (food, shelter, medical, etc.), but will be shooting alone except for inexperienced wife (mine)and possibly somewhat experienced journalism student to train in sound. Light-weight boom, mic and transmitter as basic set-up? What brand mic(s)and what brand radio. ESPECIALLY, what light-weight tripod and head (will be doing lots of long-lens observing)? For stills, I don't want to carry large kit of 35mm cameras, lenses and film, but hope to shoot pro-sumer digital with a long-range zoom. Would a 5 megapixel camera be suitable for non-coffee-table-size reportage book? Which camera (new Nikon 8700?

What else besides white sheets, portable reflectors, gaffer tape? Tiny generator? How many batteries? More tricks of the trade? Good books?

Forgive me if this has been covered a million times...I just joined this thread. I recognize that this may be a burdensome request so just answer one or two questions if you like and perhaps in the aggregate I'll get a better picture of what I need.

Many thanks.

Jerry Cotts.

Jerry Cotts writes:

>Having not made documentaries in many years, I would like to ask for >suggestions about basic kit (and any other advice you might offer).

Jerry, I'm currently co-producing a doc for broadcast and DVD (4x3, no filmout planned) under conditions that are similar in some respects: There are only two of us -- my co-producer and myself -- doing, and schlepping, everything.

Working out the tradeoffs has been interesting, to say the least. The overriding lesson so far? KEEP IT SIMPLE!

Here's what works for us, and what I might suggest for your shoot :

Cameras :

We use a PD150, with a VX2000 as a backup and B-camera. Pretty much everything is interchangeable between the two cameras, which has saved our butts several times already. Our shoot is taking us to a few 50Hz/PAL countries (where we shoot all interiors at 1/100 sec shutter speed), so we feel that having a backup NTSC camera is good policy. We carry the cameras on our persons at all times, in appropriate shoulder bags.

For your shoot I think the DVX100A would be a good choice, but you might also check out Panasonic's two similar cameras, the DVC-80 (essentially a DVX100 without the 24P feature) and the soon-to-be-released DVC-30, which is smaller and lighter, but retains the wide-angle lens. (Caveat: this newbie nay not have all its bugs worked out. And there are no reviews of it yet that I'm aware of.)

I'd also suggest you check out the Sony PDX-10. It's very small and light (even with a WA adaptor attached) and has a megapixel chip for excellent16x9 performance. On the downside, its low-light performance (due to its 1/5" chip) is said not to be quite the equal of the DVX100A (dunno about the DVC-30). The Sony might also have longer battery life than the Pannys (using the largest battery you can get for it).

With non-shoulder balanced cameras, every once of weight will reduce the amount of time you can handhold them comfortably and steadily. Consider getting a monopod in addition to your tripod.

Get a DV cleaning cassette. Check your tape frequently. Use the cleaner only if you see problems, such as horizontal bands that alternate between image and no image -- don't over-use it! Stick to one brand of tape. (Sony or Panny 80-minute tapes might help keep your kit's weight down and save time in the field.)

Environmental considerations :

Ask for advice about sealing/wrapping from those who've taken video cameras into dusty areas. Transport the camera in a dustproof case such as a Pelican or similar. (With a PDX-10 this can be a fairly small case)

Sound :

We use Sony ECM44B wired lavs (with an extra 25-ft XLR mic cable for each) and Sennheiser ME80 short shotguns in Sennheiser shock mounts. We also carry a couple of cheap-but-decent Samson wireless systems but so far haven't had a need to use them. We use Sony MDR-7504 phones for monitoring (alas, these compact phones are no longer made -- Get one 7505 or 7506, plus an emergency backup set -- even a good set of high-end walkman phones is much better than nothing. Also get a 25-ft mini stereo extension cable so the boom operator can monitor the camera. Always strain-relief the headphone cable at the camera end to keep its miniplug from being wrenched -- you can probably knot it through the strap of the right-side grip handle.

With a Sennheiser short shotgun, always use the bass-cut switch. A foam windscreen should be adequate and most compact, but a Zeppelin type, though bulky, will be more protective. The Sony ECM44 and the Sennheiser K6 powering module (for the short shotgun) both use AA batteries, with very low drain.

>What else besides white sheets, portable reflectors, gaffer tape?

Are you planning to shoot entirely available-light? If so, consider taking along at least one small on-camera light that uses the same type of battery as your camera. (You can do this with Sony, not sure about Panny.)

>Tiny generator?

Honda makes the smallest, quietest ones. But for battery charging I'd suggest getting a couple of small, 100- to 150-watt 12v->120V inverters you can plug into car ciggy lighters (Get separate chargers so you don't end up leaving the cameras in cars overnight!). Also note that many car lighter sockets won't work with the ignition key switched off, so you may need to charge while driving, or get a set of clip leads that terminate in a cig socket, which you can attach directly to the car's battery. These MUST be properly fused or breakered as close to the clips as possible. You can do this by inserting a ~20-amp 12-volt DC self-resetting thermal breaker -- available at any auto-supply store -- into the hot lead a couple of inches from the clip.

The inverters might also be needed if you go solar - which is a whole another conversation. Radio Shack carries some VERY compact one-piece inverters that look basically like large cig-lighter plugs.

>How many batteries?

My VX2000 will run close to 9 hours, using the LCD finder (not the larger flip out screen), on the largest available battery. Don't know about the PDX-10 or the Pannys.


Get into the habit of checking the camera's main switch so you don't leave the camera idling in its case, draining the battery. You can also kill the main power between shots to cut battery drain to the bone.

That's all I have time for tonight....


Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

I have found that when shooting with small cameras like the DVX100 I can't do without my monopod with a quick release plate. It gives me a way to rest my arms when not shooting, a steadier shot when shooting in general, and a way to get above my subjects for interesting angles.

When accessories start to get added onto the camera (wide angle adapter or squeeze lens, decent shotgun mic) it makes it a bit heavier and awkward, and I find holding it out in front of me all day tiring. YMMV, but I thought I would suggest this.

Dana Kupper (1st time poster, long time lurker)
Doc shooter, Chicago

Sony makes some great video lights that use the same batteries the PD-150 uses. I own a PD-150 so I always have batteries on the ready. Its the size of a couple of packs of cigarettes. Has 2x10watt bulbs and lasts an amazingly long time. You can mount it on you camera for a sun gun look. I usually hand the light to someone else for a more side lit look. These little lights are often all I need to grab a quick interview in a cave or as the sun goes down.

Also get some good Malaria medication. I got Malaria in Zimbabwe and it ain't fun.

Bob Hayes DP LA

Thanks to the stalwart, generous and ever-useful members of CML for their help in planning this shoot!

Jerry Cotts

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