(I didn’t actually get to


(I didn’t actually get to go to Japan this year, but I plan on trying again.)

I just finished my first practice shoot with the equipment (more or less) described above.

$130 hiking backpack, containing:

$160 entertainment-center-type DVD player
$70 6-channel audio mixing panel
$60 35 amp hour 12 volt SLA battery
$40 750-watt power inverter
$20 boom mic stand, with the end on one side stuffed in a pocket, and held in place with straps. (Imagine one of those big hiking backpacks, with a frame and all. The top of the boom mic stand sticks up about a foot above the top of the backpack, and the boom end of the stand is about 3 feet long and sticks forward and upward at about a 30 degree angle.)
$260 shotgun condenser microphone, with stock windscreen.
$130 cheapest-I-could-find Audio-Technica wireless lav system. I think they also sell this model at Radio Shack, so I know I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel.

I also had a $350 Sony cheapest-digital8-WalMart-had camcorder with S-video out, and a $325 Manfrotto tripod with fluid head.

(Missing: one GhostBusters logo to affix to the back, so if anyone saw my kit and felt compelled to laugh at it, they would know I’m not taking myself seriously either. πŸ™‚ )

In theory, I’ve got this outdoor video shoot licked. Everything I need is here in one form or another.

The idea was, run my friend out to where she has her horses stabled, and shoot some video of the horses, with my friend narrating. I’d just have to keep the shotgun mic high enough in the air that nobody tries to nibble on it. I’d also use the mixer to put the shotgun mic in the left channel and the lav mic in the right channel, and combine or discard audio as needed later.

Lessons learned:

1) despite the multiple straps and buckles and weight-distributing gizmos built into that backpack, carrying that much weight around for an hour-long video shoot is tiring. My shoulders hurt.
2) When shooting in the sun, wear sunscreen. Ow.
3) The cooling fan on the power inverter spooks horses. My friend thought I could just stay far away and gradually get closer as the horses got used to me, but they never really did.
4) Because my rig spooks horses, and I had to shoot from so far away, my only useful audio came from the lav my friend was wearing. The shotgun only really got wind noise (lots), dogs barking, and foot/hoof steps.
5) Both mics were picking up tons of wind noise. I need to invest in some Rycote products.
6) I failed to set the lav up properly. It never dawned on me she would need to whistle or clap while interacting with the horses, or that people sometimes sneeze or cough. So any time she did any of those things, or talked louder than normal (like when telling a horse ‘no’) she clipped out, and it sounded pretty bad.
7) I failed to set up the wireless receiver for the lav up properly. The manual recommends keeping the antennas at a 90-degree angle. If you just plug the receiver in, extend and orient the antennas, and then stuff the whole mess in a back pocket of the backpack, the antennas don’t stay put. My subject frequently sounded like an out-of-tune FM radio station. Now I know why I’ve seen pros mount their wireless receivers on top of their cameras — less *stuff* between the receiver and the subject.
I eventually got good audio by turning sideways so one antenna pointed at my subject, but that wasn’t comfortable.
8) The DVD recorder had a few problems, and I’m not yet sure what the problem was. I know the unit is designed to sit in an entertainment center in a temperature-controlled room, and I wasn’t using it that way. Nearly all of the video/audio I gave the recorder was written to disk perfectly, but late in the shoot there were some corrupted blocks, which on playback caused it to skip ahead to the next even 5-second interval.
For one thing, jumping and bumping around in a backpack, sideways, might have adversely affected a device which was designed to sit flat like a VCR. Second, the DVD recorder itself was hot to the touch when I pulled it out. It didn’t burn me, but it was about as hot as a NiMH battery pack gets just after getting a rapid charge. So I probably need to think about ventilation.
The first video skip happened near minute 35, and I was completely stationary at the time. So I’m probably lucky I didn’t burn the thing out.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my experiences, and invite any comments or suggestions from those more experienced. Thanks for reading!

–Michael Spencer

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