Help! I’m making a documentary and need help.

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    • #37220

      I’m in the planning stages of creating a documentary. I want to shoot it in HD. The problem is the crux of it will be shot while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s really cool except: I may not have electricity after we leave base camp. I need to have the lightest equipment possible while still having quality equipment, and of course how do I keep the costs low.

      Luckily I’m working witha a very good fundraiser and my local PBS affiliate, but I still need all the advice that I can get. Thanks in advance.



    • #164892

      Hi Will,

      I’d consider a few key things for your camcorder selection. First topic, CMOS versus CCD technology. Most new HD camcorders available will use CMOS sensors rather than CCDs. Make sure you choose a camcorder with a CMOS sensor–they use less power. There are quite a few small HD camcorders out there that will be easy to pack and hike with. Second topic: the smallest and most energy efficient are HD camcorders that use solid state memory recording (e.g., SDHC cards). A camcorder that uses solid state memory can be smaller and therefore lighter than a camcorder that uses tape. A solid state memory camcorder also uses less mechanical moving parts, which result is less power consumption. The problem with solid state memory camcorders is that you usually have shorter record times and the resulting video might be more difficult to edit on some software applications. Generally, if you’re shooting solid state video on a small HD camcorder, it’s likely to be in the AVCHD video format. If you go that route make sure to check that your software and computer system can handle the extra demands of AVCHD editing.

      With that said, the tape-based HDV format provides stunning quality and is generally easy to edit (but always check your software and system specs). Moreover, the HDV format has many more prosumer camcorder options that might provide the best fit for your shooting needs. If that’s the case, remember to get a camcorder with CMOS sensors.

      Here’s a list of some very light weight camcorders that come to mind:

      Solid state memory
      Canon VIXIA HF10; consumer level cam, but has mic input; CMOS sensor; AVCHD format; SDHC compatible memory card; $1099
      Panasonic AG-HSC1U; prosumer level cam, CCD sensor (booo!), but it weighs 1.1 lbs; AVCHD format; SDHC compatible; $2099

      HDV tape-based
      Canon VIXIA HV30; prosumer level cam; mic input; CMOS sensor; HDV format; $999
      Sony HDR-HC9; prosumer level cam; mic input; CMOS sensor; HDV format; $1099

      Obviously, this is not a complete list, but it’s what I’ve seen out there that’s super small and has some pro-like features. There’s also small, energy efficient hard drive disk camcorders, but I don’t like that you have to carry all your eggs in one basket with these camcorders. With tape and memory cards you can store your footage on multiple media (tapes or memory cards) and not risk loosing all your footage to a stolen or damaged camcorder.

      I hope this helps you hunt. Also, check out the prosumer camcorder category that’s a little bigger (e.g., Sony HDR-FX1, Canon XH-A1, Panasonic AG-HVX200, etc.). Those are good options too, but there much more work to lug around.


    • #164893


      Thanks for the ideas.
      I would like to use solid state media like a P2 card for my camera. However I’m terrified of having a problem with my P2 store and not knowing until I come back. The camera I’ve been looking at is the Panasonic AG-HVX200. If I was going with tape, I’d probably look hard at the Canon XH-A1.

      This is what I’m looking at right now:

      of course I need a tripod and about 20 mini dv tapes.

      Thanks again.

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    • #164894


      My choice would be the Sony VX2100, over my PD170, lighter by some. Do not take a delicate camera. Whatever you get,give it a good workoutbefore you head for the airport. For the VX2100, 3 batteries guarantee 20 hours; and 6 batteries for 40 hours is no big deal. I have done remote shooting in third world countries, relying on battery power and it’s cool.

      One company says the average porter tip is $125; consider $200 if you give the porter an extra 20 pounds to carry. They are already carrying a lot of stuff dedicated to the success of your personal experience.

      For sound, I think I would bring a couple good lavs along, with maybe a 20 foot cable (at least 10), plus the converter cable to input to your cam (if non XLR input like the VX).

      Bring extra ND filters. You will be cleaning them off a lot. Better to be cleaning off your filters (and toss them when they get scratched), then to be rubbing your lens like crazy. BTW the extended hood on the normal lens of the VX2100 provides extra lens protection.

      Must admit you got me started doing research about Kili climbs. Am envious. Prices vary a lot, like by $3-4K,based on the company. (For a flight in from Arusha and the ground part.) The most expensive ones claim success rates of90% plus (getting to the top). Cheaper ones (shorter trips with less acclimatization) can be around 50%.

      You will be tired as hell andbreathless with every stepas you get close to the top. I’d have a strap for your cam. (I can’t remember the last time Iused a strap with a cam…) You don’t want to drop your cam as you are concentrating on taking your next exhausted step as you get closer and closer.

      It can rain without warning lower down;always have a large zip bag handyto protect your cam. (How are HD cams in moisture ???)

      I haven’t done Kili, butI have done Kinabalu (Borneo) andDenali(Alaska). Be aware that in snowy/glacier areas, with the sun overhead, flip out LCDson most cams are useless. You will be using your eyecup. Be prepared for that.If I ever return to the glaciers of Denali (McKinley), I will haveplastic picnic plates to place under the feet of my tripod, so that one leg is not always trying to sink lower than the others.

      I’d bring a decent digital still camera for quick shots when something happens. I think a still of the toilet tent would be more tasteful than a video clip, although a succession of your climbing-mates as they stumble out of the can after dealing with the big D might be fun to watch (several years) later.

      During your recovery phase, back at sea level, if you have the time, I’d recommend checking out some craft shops in Darwhere members of the Makonde tribe are applying their amazing skill in carving”family trees” and other traditional subjects out of massive tree trunks. Many years ago, I amassed an amazing collection of carvings in exchange for Timex watches which I had brought from the States; the watcheswere considered highly desirable at the time by the Makonde.

      Have a great trip. Come back healthy. Hope to see your work someday.

      REGARDS … Thom

    • #164895

      Thanks Thom, that’s a lot of good stuff to think about. One question I have is how do the “little” batteries (compared to Anton Baeur) react to cold weather? I live in Rochester, NY and on cold days my batteries die a lot quicker.

      I am looking at the VX2100 now that you talked about it. It’s getting great marks for its low light characteristics. I’m still leaning towards the Canon XH-A1. It has 24f and HD capability.

      Thanks also for the little ideas. I hope I would have thought of the extra ND filters and putting something on my tripod so that the legs won’t sink.



    • #164896
      Participant – this is a portable solar panel with a standard 12V lighter outlet. May be useful if you want to carry a charger as well.

      I have travelled a lot as a news cameraman, but never on foot. So I never actually travelled without a charger. I would do everything to have a charger on a trip.

      DIY Wedding Video

    • #164897

    • #164898

      Thanks! That’s half the price of the one I’m looking at. I’ll have to check the specs on both to see what’s lighter/better value.



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