The quest for perfection...

THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME DEBATE regarding what equipment should be used to make films, and a rather questionable attitude that considers that only the latest and greatest (and therefore usually the most expensive!) kit will do.

The best films are those with the best script. Period.

Films taken on mobile phones are often used in news items, frequently because they offer the only available record of the event. Modern mobiles can provide adequate quality for productions intended for viewing on other mobiles or even television screens; their problems are that there is little control over the picture in terms of focus and exposure, and low light sensitivity can be a problem due to the necessarily small lens. If the sound recording from the built-in mic isn’t good enough, the sound track can be provided by a separate audio recorder such as a little Roland R-05 and post-synchronised when editing.

Modern hand-held video camcorders are priced in the middle-to-late hundreds. They are usually provided with a fold-out viewing screen and produce Full-HD recordings - usually in the AVCHD file format, on SDHC or SDXC cards - which can provide excellent quality for a very modest price. The better ones have an external stereo mic input so that a better quality mic can be used. You can get great grab shots since there is no need to run tape up to speed, and they provide near-instant recording – or even pre-recording, a facility which (by means of a short looping recording) provides a few seconds of images taken before you press the record button. Very useful for getting the start of an event, such as a race.

The more expensive range of equipment, intended for serious enthusiasts, semi-pro and corporate users, is usually priced in the low thousands, but provides control over nearly all aspects of the image while providing balanced audio connections, and often multiple sound channels.

Broadcast kit provides a choice between a mortgage for a house or a camera, and that’s before you add the pro sound gear. Dream on! You will need to keep fit just to carry it, with the bigger batteries, tripods and so on that go with it, usually housed in flight cases.

The use of DSLR cameras for video recording (Digital Single Lens Reflex, similar to the now nearly extinct 35mm cameras) is being explored, possibly because of the choice of lenses available and thus much improved control over exposure and DoF (Depth of Field). Their (hopefully) larger sensor chip means better definition and good performance in low light. However, setting-up for a shot can be a little time consuming, and the provision of a sound channel can be rather basic. They may also be less than ideal to use as hand-held cameras when shooting video, due to their shape.

If you consider the time taken to make a film, the bit with the camera is very short! - think in terms of the running time of your production and perhaps double or treble it, to provide for some retakes - so probably just a few hours. The real time-consuming work is put into the script, planning, casting, costume, make-up, location/s, setting-up, and finally, editing.

Your audience shouldn’t be aware of any of this; they should be so engrossed in the storyline that even a silent black-and-white film will attract and hold their attention! (OK, maybe have a dog in it somewhere).

The main thing is to get out there and film with whatever kit is available, then you will be able to make up your mind over what you want to improve. Don’t forget to speak to club members and listen to their experiences before you part with any cash. It could save you a bundle.

Good luck!

Pete Heaven

March 2013