Fieldnotes: Ethnodocumentary film equipment


Frequent readers know that I've been working on a ethnodocumentary film about disabilities in Japan. I spent three weeks over winter shooting and I'm going back again next week to shoot some more. I've already gotten a rough cut of one film (on mental illness) done, which I've been screening to a limited audience.

I shot the footage using two cameras, the Canon XL-H1 and the Sony HDR-HC1. Both are HDV or high-definition DV camcorders, shooting in 1080i. The images from both of them are simply stellar. The Canon has a much better lens, better sensor, better on-board sound, XLR jacks, etc. but the Sony can be taken to places where the shoulder-mounted larger camera is too indiscreet.

I'll be taking the same rig back to Japan. Here is my modified equipment list, you can compare to what I brought last time to see that very little has changed.

  • HDV Equipment:
    • Canon XL-H1 camcorder (primary)
    • Sony HDR-HC1 camcorder (secondary)
    • Tons of Mini-DV cassettes
    • Batteries, battery chargers, cables, etc.
  • Sound Equipment
    • Sennheiser ME66 shotgun mike
    • Sennheiser ME64 cardioid mike
    • Sony UWP wireless mike (lavalier)
    • Edirol R-09 (to be bought in Japan) for dual-system sound
    • Sennheiser HD-280 monitoring headphones
    • Beachtek XLR adapter (for Sony)
    • RODE shotgun microphone mount (for Sony) w/ cheapo L-bracket
    • iPod 3G 40 gigs (for the 'tunes)
    • 1.5' and 10' XLR cables, misc cables for the wireless system, etc.
  • Velbon Cargmagne Tripod w/ Gitzo 503 video head
  • Apple PowerBook G4 / 15"
  • Leica M7 with Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon (100 speed B&W film)

The main difference is with my sound equipment. I returned the Sennheiser wireless because I had two failures (one prior to the field and one in the field) and don't trust them anymore. I'll blog about it separately, but I'm switching to the Sony UWP system. It's a little cheaper and I'm not sure if it's better, but maybe it won't break as easily.

The other change is that -- where possible -- I'd like to have have dual-system sound. The Sony HDR has noisy preamps and when I switch the Canon XL-H1 to 4-channel sound, the quality goes down. So if I want to record more than 2-channels, I really need to use an external system. The Edirol R-09 seems to have a few more features than the MicroTrack 24/96 (which was my next choice) -- but it was the replaceable AA batteries and internal mike that were the swing vote. The R-09 isn't readily available in the USA, so I'm hoping to be able to buy it in Japan.

One primary consideration for me that few other filmmakers have is that I have no crew. Last winter, I had an assistant for the Hokkaido section, but she won't be available this time around. So I need a setup that one person can handle, and the above list -- while seeming a lot -- is much less than what a full documentary film crew would carry.

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on May 23, 2006 11:46 PM.

Info: Cloning your laptop hard drive was the previous entry in this blog.

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