Equipment for a documentary. Suggestions please

Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews Forums Technique Production Gear Equipment for a documentary. Suggestions please

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    • #70916


      I am traveling overseas next year to teach with a group of 10 people and we want to make an observational documentary about the educational system of the country we are in.  My question is:  what equipment should we be planning on taking with us?  Here is a general idea of what I am thinking so far.

      • Camera/Lenses:
      • Canon DSLRs
      • Prime Lenses
      • Zoom Lenses
      • Tripods
      • Shoulder Mount


      ME66 shotguns
      Boom pole and shock mounts
      Zoom H4ns


      • Light reflector

      We are going to mostly be interviewing students and teachers outside in the school yard (A few interviews in classrooms too).  We're looking for the simplest setup to capture interviews of the students and teachers.  The two big questions I have right now are:

      1. Are DSLRs are the best choice for cameras so far as quality for dollar value, or should I be looking at any other types of cameras? 
      2. Is it realistic to try to do everything with shotguns on boompoles or should we be splurging for wireless sennheiser setups?

      Thanks for your help, let me know if I should be thinking about anything else.

      Thank you,


    • #208853

      You can certainly get artistic/cinematic with a DSLR but it somewhat complicates the shoot. If time is a factor or if you are trying to stay low profile I would opt for a standard video camera and run the audio straight to it rather than a recorder. There are some very good ones in the lower price range nowadays and the only thing you would be trading off would be depth of field but if the situation calls for simplicity it can be worth it.


      How good are the others in your group at running a DSLR rig? When it comes down to it in an interview type situation you can get by with a lot of auto function if you need to utilize a less experienced operator.


      I would also take two or three 5 in 1 type reflectors. One at least to bounce light on a subject and one to cut strong overhead light with the diffuse core should appropriate shade not be available.

    • #208854

      Be dang sure of any international laws/restrictions on the use of wireless mics. These are radio transmitters after all and who knows what frequencies/licenses the country you are in requires. If you were to go with Sennheiser, I'm sure they can advise you.

    • #208858

      Hi Mike – if you use a DSLR, you will also need to add an LCD Viewfinder or EVF to your equipment list because the viewfinder goes blank in live view (video) mode.  Are you planning to buy a Canon 70D with lightning fast autofocus?  If you buy any other Canon DSLR, you'll need a follow focus as well.


      I personally don't like these workarounds, so I don't use DSLRs for serious work.


      If you want the stealth and large sensor "look" of a DSLR, but with built-in EVF, a headphone jack, fast autofocus and essentially unlimited continuous recording time (DSLRs are limited to 12,20 or 30 minutes of continuous recording before you have to restart them)., you should consider the Panasonic GH3 ($998 on sale at Amazon as of this post).


      Here are a couple of docs shot with this camera:






      I plug a battery powered XLR directly into this camera with a $17 line matching converter and get perfectly clean sound with the camera's preamps.


      I don't know what your budget is, but to get the GH3's large sensor, high resolutuon look from a camcorder with XLR inputs (e.g., Sony EA50/FS100/FS700, Canon C100/300/500) would require a bigger, heavier camera and cost a lot more money.


      Hope this is helpful and good luck with your project!



      Hybrid Camera Revolution



    • #210101
      Aviv Vana

      The GH3 is a big crop factor which you should be aware of. Becomes limiting in Doc filming when you don't have much space. I like Full frame so I can get a lot out of a basic 50mm lens. A great 50mm becomes more then 100mm on a GH3!


      My camera of choice if you can afford it would be the 5d3 and use something like a juicedlink or equivalent to run clean xlr audio straight into camera with no post production.

    • #208906

      Thank you Woody, that's a great idea. Simplicity is the key for this project to succeed.  Staying low profile and simple is definitely a priority.  I am proficient with my dslr but I'm not sure how well the others would be able to handle the complications that come with using one.  I think I could use my DSLR for some scenic shots.


      Do you have any standard camcorders that you recommend?


    • #208907

      True, I'll have to look into that.  Thanks for the heads up!

    • #208908

      Hey Bill,


      Thanks for the suggestion,  this is helpful.  The footage quality looks good!  I have a follow focus and shoulder rig from amazon, but it is a hassel to use the follow focus.  Seems like the GH3 avoids a lot problems DSLRs run into.  The 120fps at 720p is useful too.  What lenses do you use with the GH3? Is there anyway to monitor the sound when you go direct in with your xlr mic?





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