Before I say anything bad about the built-in ND filter on the Sony FS5, let me begin by saying that it doesn’t suck. In fact, the Sony FS5 ND filter is so good, it’s part of the reason I switched from Canon to Sony a couple years ago. I’m still amazed by how easy it is to dial in precisely the level of ND you need every time. Well, almost every time.
When you need just a little bit of ND, there’s a gap. It’s not a huge gap, a tad more than 2 stops of light when you go from no ND to the lightest 1/4 setting. But it’s one that I’ve encountered again and again when, for example, shooting an interview wide open.
A common situation
I often want to shoot interviews wide open to separate the subject from her background. So with an f/2.8 lens, I’m as wide as I can go. And what I often find is that the room is just a little too hot, about a stop over. When I engage the variable ND, at its lowest setting, it takes the room down 2 1/3rd stops. So now let’s say I’m a good stop under exposed.
A common workaround
The only in-camera solution that won’t degrade the image (apart from increasing the shutter speed, which I don’t want to do for aesthetic reasons) is to stop down to f/4. Note, if you’re shooting glass faster than f/2.8 (and you don’t mind really throwing your background out of focus) all you have to do open to f/2.0, and engage the ND. Boom, done. But a lot of my glass is f/2.8, and that’s where I find this gap.
What the gap looks like on a monitor
F2.8 wide open without any ND. I’m looking at those highlights and saying we’re 1 stop too hot.
But when I engage the ND at lowest 1/4 setting, now we’re 2 1/3 stops under exposed. Too dark.
Turning off ND and closing the aperture to f/4 gives me the exposure I want – but I want to set f/2.8.
Finally, here’s the shot at f/2.8 with a Tiffen .3 Water White ND filter to bring us down one stop. Just right!
Closing the gap
I’ve found the right tool for plugging this gap is a .3 neutral density filter. The .3 gives you just one stop of light reduction, the least powerful ND filter that you can readily buy.
I’ve also got a 4×4″ Neutral Density 0.3 Resin Filter made by Lee, which is also excellent. But I like the 77mm screw in best, because, with appropriate step ring, I can screw it on to the front of most of my lenses very quickly without rocking a matte box.
Have you encountered this situation with your Sony FS5? How do you “mind the gap”?
The best thing about the Sony FS5 is its small, ergonomically balanced design. It’s a lightweight camera that begs to be hand held. So why would you want to screw that up by adding a big battery?
Well, actually, there are some good reasons. I’ve recently discovered the magic of using a Teradek ServPro so clients can follow along during a shoot. And, I almost always use an external monitor. If you’re powering those things independently, you begin to spend a lot of time changing batteries instead of making pictures.
But when I plugged in one of my four v-lock batteries, the camera gave me an error (right):
Hmm. So what the heck? I tried another (also fully charged) battery. Same error. Then I tried a bunch of other more expensive things, like buying a battery plate from Wooden Camera. Same problem! Then I accidentally grabbed a battery that was partially discharged already, and boom! It fired up just fine.
After a little testing, it turns out that you have to discharge your battery for just a couple minutes, for the FS5 to recognize it. Don’t ask me why this is a thing, but it is.
To power your FS5 with an v-mount battery, buy an adapter, and a battery plate. And then, prime your batteries by discharging them for a few minutes by firing up the monitor and other devices, before turning the camera on. Good to go!
A better (albeit more expensive) solution
Wooden Camera battery plate for Sony FS5
I purchased a Wooden Camera V-Mount Battery Plate for Sony PXW-FS5/FS7, to see if that would fix the battery priming issue. It costs $195. The first one I purchased didn’t work at all. The helpful staff at Wooden Camera arranged a quick return. After the repair, the unit works flawlessly – without requiring battery priming. But you do have to purchase a Wooden Camera battery slide, for $193.03. So by the time you get done paying the bill, this proper solution adds up to $388.03. The Wooden Camera battery slide is also a pound lighter than the Redrock Micro cheese plate.
Wooden Camera battery plate for Sony FS5, reverse side. The Teradek ServePro is attached to the back of the battery slide with two strips of velcro.
Footnote: It turns out that the way I’ve powered the camera in these photos is actually quite dangerous. As I discovered later, if the brick battery dies while you are rolling, your clips won’t be saved to disk, and you’ll lose the shot. Luckily, there’s a simple solution.
Maybe it’s because I’m over 50. I don’t know. But I haven’t been very excited about new gear lately. Nevertheless, I’ve recently made a couple of discoveries that I think are pretty special. Here’s what and here’s why:
I shot a project last week where I needed to light a two-person studio setup (similar to the “I’m a Mac” campaign) in front of a white background. For this I needed to rent a fair bit of light – two lights to evenly light the background, and two bright key sources that I could bounce into 4×4 sheets of foam core to give me a nice, even key illumination on both subjects with a little room for them to move around. Here’s a couple frames from the shoot:
I went with two Zylight F8s for the background lights – tough to beat the 8″ fresnel with wi-fi control that allows both lights to be wirelessly linked. When you adjust the dimmer on one light, it automatically dims the other light identically. A real timesaver for evenly illuminating backgrounds.
When the key lights I initially asked for weren’t available at my rental house (I think I had asked for Kino Tegras), the helpful tech at Glazers suggested I try the new Aputure COB 300Ds. I’d heard of them after they won Best Lighting Product at NAB last year. But this was my first opportunity to try them. So I jumped on it.
Wow. The 300Ds are *$# BRIGHT!
I went from expecting to be at f/2.8 to f/5.6. I’m serious, it’s like a Joker 800-watt light, but it’s LED-easy to work with. You can throw two or three into your car and roll out with minimal crew or grip. And by minimal grip, I mean you don’t even need c-stands to rock these bad boys. You DO need to soften these lights, though – so hence, the extra stands needed for holding bounce/modifiers.
Kupo: a bad-ass baby stand
Two Kupo Baby Kit Stands will fit perfectly in a Sachtler Flowtech 75 tripod bag, with room for short grip arms.
That’s where the Kupo Medium Kit Stands come in. Sporting a 5/8″ spud, the aluminum stands are so light that you can fit 4 of them into the same space that you would carry 2 c-stands – and a lot less weight. They reach to 9.5 feet tall, which is plenty for just about everything I do. And they have beefy, square legs that will support up to 23 pounds.
By chance, it turns out that the tripod case that comes with the Sachtler Flowtech 75 is precisely the length and girth to fit two of these stands, along with room to carry a short grip arm for each.
Each bag containing two stands with grip heads weighs 23 pounds. I pack four of these stands in two Sachtler bags, which is plenty of stands for most of the jobs I roll out on.
The Kupo medium baby stands are perfect for supporting the Aputure lights, and much more. Adding 20″ grip heads, these stands accomplish 90 percent of what a traditional c-stand can do, while weighing about half as much. They even have a leveling leg – something none of my c-stands has. All for a price of about $100 each. Kudos to Kupo.
Bright but loud…
One thing to note about the Aputure COB 300D: the fans are loud. You really need to get the power supply away from the lamp head if you’re going to be rolling sound. They come in the kit with a 6-foot 4-pin xlr power cable, which is very high quality, but it’s just not long enough. I don’t plan to purchase these lights – they are super cheap to rent and readily available. And six months from now, there’s apt to be something brighter and better, the way led lighting is changing these days. But because I will be renting them so much, I do require a longer cable to power them, to allow placing that noisy power supply in a corner away from the filming area.
…So make your own cable
I found a custom cable maker, Show Me Cables, where I was able to built custom 30′ cables for $61 a pop. I purchased two of them, with the following specs:
XLR 4 Pin Male
Connector A Label
4-pin XLR male
4 Conductor Cable
XLR 4 Pin Male
Connector B Label
4-pin XLR male
In the comments field, you should specify “straight pinout.”
You’ll notice there are no talking heads in this story. There IS an interview, of course, but it was recorded with a microphone, not a camera. This allowed me to break production into two parts – story development, and video production.
I interviewed the subject first, using just a microphone. This keeps production costs low, and allows the interview to double as casting, to be sure that the subject is the right one to pull off the story. In this case, she nailed it, so we moved on to the next step, the radio edit.
In this step, I cut a story, complete with music, with the goal of making something that could air on the radio, complete with music and pacing. We haven’t even shot video yet. I submit this to client for approval.
By eliminating video, the client is forced to focus exclusively on the story, not how somebody’s hair looks. Changes they make at this stage are very easy to make, because there’s no video to screw up – you haven’t shot any yet.
Once you get approval, you schedule the shoot. At this point, you have the story in your head, and you know exactly what you need to shoot. This makes your shoot go much smoother and more quickly than if you are covering your butt because you don’t know what the story is going to be.
When you’ve wrapped, you move to rough cut. And now, the rough cut comes together really quickly. You’re already more than half done when you start, with the spine of your story already in your timeline.
If your client is an organization that has a lot of brass in the approval chain, this two-stage approach to story development has major benefits. By introducing the stakeholders to your story gently, first with the radio edit and then with the video, it removes the shock that clients always have when a rough cut lands on their desk. Because they’ve already approved the radio edit, when they see the rough cut, it’s like seeing an old friend wearing a different outfit. They will have some comments about the pants or the shirt, but they like what’s underneath it.
This approach paves the way for an easy approval process, makes the job easier every step of the way, and ultimately, makes clients happier.
Turn on your TV. What’s the first thing you see? Somebody talking to the camera. Blah blah blah. Open a film on Netflix. What’s the first thing you see? Action. The essence of cinematic storytelling is showing, not telling. So, if you aspire to cinematic storytelling with your documentary filmmaking, why film talking heads in the first place? Why not commit to showing instead of telling?
I’m a little hesitant to share this insight, because it’s valuable to me. Big medical organizations hire me to to tell their most important stories, and it’s a financially rewarding gig. Why give away my secret? But ideas are cheap – it’s execution that matters. So here’s a cheap idea that, when applied, has proven invaluable to me and my clients.
Stop shooting interviews with a camera.
Wait, what? How can you say that – aren’t you a camera guy? Yes, I am. But my first commitment is to story. And I’ve observed that:
Being on camera feels like a performance to most people; being on mic feels more like a conversation. Talking heads are boring; mic’d conversations are more authentic.
Cameras need lights, grip and crew. Sound needs only a mic, a recorder, and a quiet place, so audio costs less.
If the audio interview doesn’t move you, you move on. It’s easy to do that because you’re less invested when you use a mic.
Not having any interview footage forces you (and your client) to choose a visually interesting character who provides cinematic b-roll opportunities.
Recording interviews audio-only adds a “radio edit” step to your editing workflow, building client buy-in early in the process. This translates into fewer client changes at the rough cut stage, faster delivery, and a happier client.
Let’s unpack this.
Talking heads are boring
Most people aren’t actors. So, they are uncomfortable when a camera is pointed at them. There are ways of minimizing this, but the simplest, most effective way is to simply nix the camera. Instead, bring only a microphone. That way, you can be sure they’re never thinking “how do I look?” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Great interviews are genuine, human conversations. And when cameras are not in the mix, everything gets easier. Not only for the subject, but also for me. No part of my brain is thinking about the lighting, or the frame rate, or the ISO. I’m just thinking about the person I’m talking to. I’m fully present. And THAT is the foundation of an extraordinary interview.
Camera interviews are expensive
In the large-nonprofit productions I do, a typical interview involves a crew of 3-4 people and a station wagon full of equipment. If we split the equipment up between picture and sound, about three-quarters of the “stuff” we bring belongs in the picture category. By going audio-only with your interviews, you eliminate three-quarters of your stuff. This also allows you to cut your crew in half. You see where I’m going with this: Cameras are expensive; talk is cheap.
Documentaries need casting, too
Great documentary films are built from great stories. Great stories emerge from great interviews. And great interviews come from great characters. To find great characters, you have to do casting.
When you use a mic for your interviews, you turn your interviews into casting sessions. If the interview is weak, it’s easy to move on to another story candidate without incurring the high costs of camera production. It allows you to cut your losses quickly.
On the other hand, if it’s an extraordinary interview, it’s easy to get your client to buy in to the story, with a radio edit. And the only thing left to do is the b-roll. More on that below.
It forces you (and your client) to choose wisely
Too often, clients settle. They settle for a boring character and an uninspiring story that has few b-roll options. They do this because you let them. And you let them by shooting interviews.
When you shoot an interview, you can always cover your lack of good b-roll by cutting to the talking head, like they do on TV. But no matter how well you’ve lit the interview, it’s still a talking head.
When you have no talking head, you force both yourself and your client to pick a strong character, who will provide you with action to film. That is, you force yourself to show instead of tell. That’s sometimes an uncomfortable place to be. But trust me, it’s a good place to be.
The radio edit advantage
We’ve all been there. You work really hard on an edit, you present it to your client, and you hold your breath. Will they like it? How many changes will they make? What if they don’t like it?
I have discovered that if you take the time to introduce your client to a story with a “radio edit,” you (and your client) will be able to breathe a lot easier when it comes time to deliver your rough cut.
A radio edit is an audio-only version of your film that would totally work if it were aired on the radio, including music and pacing. The first time I did this, the client came back to me with a surprising comment: “Wow. This sound like a This American Life piece. We can’t wait to see what it looks like with video!”
By giving them a polished radio edit first, you introducing them to your story gently. You invite them to buy in to the story, and to your approach. I find that clients have a few changes at this stage. But these few are much easier and less expensive for you to make than they would be after you’ve added b-roll.
Here’s how it works
On this project, my client needed help launching a $2 billion fundraising campaign. They wanted to find a story that would inspire their audience to believe that heart disease was beatable, and that their donations could have a direct impact. Because of the big numbers at stake, the approval chain included a lot of brass, including the CEO. Red flag!
The first person we interviewed (mic only) didn’t move us. Neither did the second person. So we kept looking. Then we found Jim. Here’s his radio edit:
The client liked the radio edit, and suggested some minor changes. Here’s the final film:
When they saw the rough cut (for this and another film we made concurrently using the same approach), they sent me this email:
Dan. I don’t think we have ever given this little feedback on videos. They’re universally loved, and we think they’re going to work really well.
Werner Herzog once said “Good footage always cuts.” The visuals don’t have to literally match the dialog (as long as you have great story as a foundation). Somehow by choosing a character who inhabits an interesting environment, who does interesting things, the footage will always cut.
So. Next time you’re faced with a high stakes interview-based project, consider how ditching your camera can help you do more with less.
Ever since LEDs became a thing, I’ve been wishing for an LED that is bright enough to balance interiors with exteriors. Traditionally, you needed a HMI for this task. But HMIs are heavy, expensive, and hot. Nevertheless, gaffers love them for their ability to blast through diffusion and gel predictably. But for small productions like mine, generally just me, a sound recordist, and an assistant, having a light that packs the punch of an HMI but with the advantages of LEDs could be a real benefit. Enter the Hilio D12 Daylight Balanced LED Light from Litepanels.
Hilio D12 controls
The Hilio has an all-in-one design, with the ballast attached to the upper back side of the unit. At first I found this pretty awkward, because the weight on top like that means the light always wants to flop onto its back when you release the twin locking grips to aim it. But with a Snapbag in place (and you really do need diffusion on this light – more about that below) the unit feels pretty well balanced. I think LitePanels made a good choice to keep the ballast on the unit instead of separate, like some other manufactures. It makes it really compact, but at 25 pounds, this isn’t a small light. In fact, you need something like a Master Combo HD Stand (11′) with a junior receiver that accept this light’s 1 5/8″ spud. You can’t place this light on a standard C-stand.
My problem with the design of this light is a nitpick, really: the power cord. At just 6 feet long, it is a lot less useful than the power cord that comes standard on Arri 650s. I really wish it had at least a 12′ cable with a more robust, locking connection to the unit. The ballast has a nice locking connector, so why not the power cord? Be sure to pack extra stingers when you use this light, because you really can’t plug it in without one.
With HMIs diffusion is nice; with Hilio D12, it’s mandatory
The thing with LEDs is that, apart from chip on board designs, they tend to have many individual points of light. That’s not a bad thing, but it means that you definitely have to diffuse the light to avoid multiple shadows. This is especially true of the Hilio, which is essentially an oversized light panel.
Here’s a comparison that shows how much diffusion is necessary to achieve good results:
Raw beam through doorway
Raw beam through 4×4 of Hampshire frost light diffusion (note lines are still visible)
Beam diffused with 1/4 grid lamp head bag
The shots above make it pretty clear the Hilio D12 isn’t a great solution for throwing a hard beam of sunlight into a room, like you can with an HMI. LitePanels does offer a set of Nanoptic Lens Set For Hilio D12/T12 LED Lights which are advertised to help shape the light, but I’m not sure it would solve this multiple-shadow problem. The loaner I tested for this review did not include the filters.
Snapbag soft box
Snapbag with 1/4 grid lamp head diffusion attached
Snapbag with full grid diffusion in place
The Oversized Softbox with Baffle for Hilio D12/T12 LED Light (Otherwise known as Snapbag) is very impressive. It folds right out of its bag without requiring any assembly or hardware, and attaches to the head of the light with two velcro straps in a few seconds. It’s not a big softbox, but I found it to be a nice working size – not too big to be unwieldy on location, but not too small to diffuse the light adequately.
However, I noticed that even with the 1/4 grid lamp head bag AND the full grid on the face of the Snapbag, the light emitted wasn’t particularly even. See photo above. I recently spent a week shooting on location with Kino Flo Celebs, and their perfectly even illumination surface made them a joy to work with.
Finally, using the quarter grid and full grid really cuts down the power of this light. You find yourself pretty quickly wanting to diffuse the hell out of this light, but not being able to, because you need more punch. But that’s a problem with HMIs too, right?
The window test
So, how much power do we really need, anyway? I’m not all that interested in foot candles or LUX; I prefer to talk about real-life scenarios. With artificial intelligence, you have the Turing test. With lighting, you have the window test. In my world, an LED is only a contender for the HMI equivalent prize if it’s bright enough to light a subject so that she looks good in front of a background that includes a window. So how does the Hilio do?
Hilio D12 as key with window in background
In the frame above, the Hilio was positioned, at full power, about 8′ from subject with the 1/4 grid lamp head bag to give it basic softening and spread. The light was further softened with a 4×4 of Hampshire frost (which costs just 1/3 stop of light). I used a sheet of black foam core to cut the light off the background and foreground. The light is slightly hard on her face (see the shadow cutting across the camera left side of her neck). But this light totally works for me.
Looking at the RGB parade for this exposure, you will notice that the right side of the window is actually blown out. Shooting SLOG3 with my Sony FS5 allows the highlights to roll off pretty smoothly, though, retaining some of the texture of the branches. So I would say this is acceptable. However, this wasn’t shot on a particularly bright day here in beautiful Seattle. Had their been bright sunlight hitting those trees, it would have blown them out with the light at 8′ from subject.
Moving in for a close up, I wanted to further soften the light. I got rid of the Hampshire, and velcroed on the full grid which ships with the Snapbag (in addition to the 1/4 lamp head diffusion already in place). This gave us this result (which in hindsight is a little overlit for my taste -dialing the light intensity down half a stop would improve the shot):
Hilio D12 close up
In this frame, the sun has indeed come out for a minute, so I’ve had to close down a stop to hold detail in the window. The light can handle that because I’ve moved it in closer – here it’s about 4 feet from her, AND there’s only foliage visible in the window frame. Foliage is actually quite dark, absorbing a couple of stops more light than more reflective objects such as buildings.
The Hilio isn’t something to cart around with you just in case you need it. You’ll be needing some crew to deploy this light. It’s a big gun, and that means being proactive rather than reactive about your lighting setups. Too heavy to travel with easily, it’s your friend in situations where you need to balance interior and exterior lighting. However, it doesn’t take gels the way tungsten or HMI lights do, so if you want to tweak the color you’ll need the 5-Piece CTO Gel Set with Bag for Hilio D12 LED Light which is tuned to match the light’s LED emitters. This makes the light a poor team player for work on sets with traditional lights. But if you work in small crew situations, like I do, it is a real workhorse.
“Hollywooding” a LiteMat 1 S2. Photo by Doug Plummer
When you’re a documentary filmmaker, it’s easy to fall into the habit of shooting b-roll with available light all the time. The need for speed can eclipse all other considerations, especially with regard to lighting. But it doesn’t have to be that way. LiteGear’s S2 LiteMat 1 makes it possible for documentary cinematographers to bring a little Hollywood to their next production. You don’t need a big crew – just one assistant who stays glued to your side while you work. Your assistant (with your direction) solves the lighting challenges, while you and your camera stay focused on the story.
What is the difference between videography and cinematography?
Videography is about placing lights to accurately expose your subjects. Cinematography is about placing shadows to create the mood your story needs.
But remember, lighting is a subtle thing. If it looks lit, you’re probably overdoing it. The approach I’m sharing with you is really designed to complement the light you find, not overpower it. The LiteMat S2 unit is quite bright, but it’s never going to balance your subject with direct sunlight.
The good news is it doesn’t have to. All you need it to do is wrap light into places where it doesn’t quite reach, and reveal detail in shadows that would otherwise go black.
Take the frames below. In the first frame below, the man has leaned back so that our Hollywooded fill light is being blocked by another person sitting at the table. This reveals what this shot would look like with just available lighting. (Note that woman on right has correct fill on her in both frames.)
Without fill on his face, available overhead light casts harsh shadows into his eye sockets
With fill, we can see clearly into the shadows on his face, but they still feel like shadows.
The mood I was going for with this shoot was warm and happy family time, so opening up the shadows under his face (while at the same time keeping a natural vibe) was the appropriate way to handle this. The LiteMat and an assistant allowed me to achieve that.
Here’s another frame:
Hollywooding a light allows picking up this shot quickly without fuss
I wanted to include the dog in this piece (because audiences love dogs) but he was lying under the table. Which is to say, he was in extremely low light. Basically he would have been silhouetted without the light. But because I was working with an assistant and light, I was able to see the dog, call for the light, and grab the shot within a few seconds, without disrupting the flow of the action on the table which was my primary focus. Good thing we worked fast, too – the dog got up and moved out of the shot just moments after I was able to grab the shot. And it ended up in the final film, helping me create the story I wanted to tell.
Note: the S2 version of LiteMat is not only 40 percent brighter than the original LiteMat, but it has a wider color temperature. So now, you can go all the way down to 2600k (warm incandescent bulbs) and up to 6000K, which is a good starting point for matching north window light. In other words, it can instantly match just about any light you’re working with on a documentary production.
Here’s how the finished piece turned out:
In film-speak, to “Hollywood” a light means to hold it by hand rather than placing it on a stand. It’s a common technique that is used on productions both large and small, most frequently when a subject is moving and the light needs to travel along with it.
The nice thing about the LiteMat 1 is that it’s large enough to give you a reasonably soft source, while small and lightweight enough to support easily for long periods of time. And with a few accessories, you can rig it up so that the battery and dimmer attach to a belt for completely untethered Hollywooding that puts dimmer and color temp controls at your assistant’s fingertips.
But be careful: the calibre of your documentary camera work will rise using this approach. Clients will start expecting it. Once you start Hollywooding, you can never go back!
What you need
A battery pouch. We use the Lindcraft assistants tool pouch from Filmtools because it fits a v-lock battery almost perfectly. It also has velcro sewn on the front, which which makes it possible to attach the dimmer.
A padded set belt (the one pictured below is no longer made, but you can find others like it at B&H or Filmtools).
An 8″ length of 1.5″ wide hook velcro strap for attaching the dimmer to the loop velcro on the pouch.
Improvised battery belt for Hollywooding the LiteGear S2 LiteMat 1
Holding the light close to camera at eye-level with your subjects is a great place to fill from. Hold the light slightly higher to eliminate shadows on walls behind your subject.
Unlike a c-stand, your assistant has feelings. Communicate with them clearly, be patient, give them breaks, and remember to thank them for a job well done.
Use the LiteMat’s skirt. With the skirt and grid cloth attached, you have some ability to direct the light. For even more focused throw, attach the egg crate that is included with all LiteMat kits. However, this adds significant weight.
Switch off the light when you’re not using it, to save battery.
Thanks to photographer Doug Plummer who took these photos while working on assignment for our mutual client on this project.
I just returned from a week on the road, shooting 2-person, 2-camera interviews for a documentary film that we hope will shine a light on an unsolved murder. Although I can’t talk about the content yet, I can talk about our lighting package. I chose Kino Flo Celebs, and I have some insights to share about these industry workhorses.
Kino Flo Celeb 401 kit
Kino Flo Celeb 201 kit
For this documentary production, we needed to light both the interviewer and the interviewee. So the job required something a little bigger than my usual kit. The shoot location was in a major US city that I would be flying to. And with extra baggage fees, it became clear that it would be more cost effective to rent locally than it would be to travel with my own lights.
Kino Flo Celebs rental package
Rent it or pack it?
On American Airlines, your first piece of checked luggage is $25. The second is $35. Each additional bag jumps to $125 each. I already needed two checked bags for my camera and tripod. Therefore, to bring my own lighting kit would have required two additional checked bags, totaling $600 round trip. With fees like that, it makes more sense to rent locally – and skip the hassle of traveling with all those cases.
Here’s what I specified in our package, which came to $942 for a 5-day rental:
4 c-stands (2 for 201s, 1 for my Dedo DLED 7 which I packed, and 1 for sound guy)
1 combo stand (for 401, which requires a Junior receiver)
1 25′ stinger (with power strip for distribution)
4 15lb sand bags (for c-stands)
1 25lb sand bag (for combo stand)
2 furniture pads (for blocking light if needed)
To drive all this around, we rented a Yukon SUV. It was big enough to fit our 4-person filmmaking team and the entire lighting package and camera gear in the back. Note that we also hired local sound recordists, who drove their own vehicles. We also had a local PA for a couple of shoot days, but we traveled light enough to not require a PA.
What I packed:
1600 Pelican case with my Sony FS5 camera and lens package.
When you’re both the gaffer and the DP, you really don’t have the time or the mental bandwidth to fuck with the lighting for very long. You have to put your camera hat on pretty quickly. I chose the Celebs because they offer controlled, soft light right out of the case. A light that requires setting cutters or flags or diffusing isn’t going to cut it. I need a light that I can set and forget.
The Kino Flo Celeb is perfect for these situations. Not only are Celebs soft without additional diffusion, they also include a honeycomb grid that focuses the soft light and aims it just where you want it. It’s hard to overstate how well this honeycomb works. One of the best things about the Celeb is its ability to minimize light spill.
To set up a Celeb, you just pull it out of its case, yolk-mount it on a c-stand (in the case of the 201s) or on a junior stand (in the case of the 401). The 401 really does need the Junior stand – it weighs 26 pounds. That’s a lot of light.
Celebs are built like a tank. They are designed to withstand the wear and tear of day-in, day-out production. A set of convenient metal handles allows you to easily lift the lights in and out of their road cases. The only cord you have to hook up is the power cord – the ballast is built into the back of the unit. And as color-selectable LED sources, the lights can be dialed from 2700K – 6500K. You can also dim them to about 2 percent, invaluable when you want just a hint of fill.
The lighting setups
The basic setup for our 2-person, 2-camera interviews was to place the 401 as fill for both subjects on the camera side. Then we placed the 201s on the opposite side to key each person individually. We could then adjust the fill level down to get the dark, brooding vibe the director wanted, while still holding enough detail to reveal expressions.
Basic 2-person, 2-camera interview lighting setup
The above setup worked great in conference rooms without windows. But we also often shot in rooms that had a daylight window on one or more sides. In those cases, sometimes I would use the window as fill, and the 401 as key for both subjects, with a 201 to wrap the light a little further around onto the fill side of their face if needed.
Daylight window lighting setup
Sometimes we filmed a 2-shot with one of the cameras, placing the 401 as fill by raising it above the 2-shot camera. This setup required placing both 201s on c-stand arms and raising them until their stands are out of the shot:
2-shot interview lighting setup (note both 201 lights are raised on arms to avoid seeing their stands in background of 2-shot camera)
In one case, we had to light three people: two interview subjects sitting next to each other, with the interviewer opposite them:
3-person interview lighting setup (note 401 is raised and on c-stand arm to keep it out of both camera shots, which requires counterweighting the arm. Dicey!)
Sketchy to boom
We had to shoot the above 3-person setup at night. So I chose to use the 401 as key for the 2 subjects so they could be lit evenly. However, to keep the stands out of frame, I had to boom the light out over the camera and aim it down on the subjects at a 45. I was able to make this work by clamping the yolk in a c-stand grip head, and placing a 25’lb bag on the other end of the arm as a counterweight. But this was a pretty shaky setup, and I probably should have used a 201 for each of the subjects and the 401 for the interviewer. This is where having something like a LiteGear LiteMat2L (which weighs just 3 pounds) would have been really nice.
The Celebs are not bright enough to match open window light in the background of a shot. You’d need HMIs for that. But they are bright enough to match windows that are controlled with shears, curtains or blinds. And on overcast days when you have foliage in the background of a window (which reduces the light level a couple of stops) the Celebs can match it. If the sun comes out, though, you’re cooked.
I also wish the locking power cord, which is only about 8′ long, was at least twice that length, the way Arri lights are. Because manufacturers really should include a usable length of cord with their units.
Kino Flo Celebs are clearly built to withstand the rigors of daily use in production. However, I feel they are actually overbuilt. Why couldn’t these lights be both lighter weight and durable? Competitors like Aladdin and LiteGear are making lights that are almost the same size but weigh a tiny fraction of these beasts. So I look forward to reviewing some of the lighter Celeb alternatives soon.
Pack a small light stand. Many rental houses don’t have them, and standard C-stands don’t let you place small backlights like the Dedo DLED7 as low as you may want to.
A Baby Pin is a much better way to mount 201 Celebs to a C-stand. This allows you to mount them on the grip-head end of the stand’s gobo arm, and angle the light more precisely.
For really soft light, or room ambience, bounce the 401 into a wall or ceiling (or foam core, but we didn’t have any of that with us).
1 stinger with power strip wasn’t always enough. I should have asked for 2 25′ stingers in my G&L package.
With the Kino Flo Celebs and a small crew, I was able to handle a wide variety of documentary lighting challenges. The honeycomb grids allowed me to effortlessly control light spill by simply angling the light, rather than placing flags or cutters (which require more stands). Due to it’s design, you’ll never see a single LED. Celebs produce a light that is soft enough to require no further diffusion, and they pack up very quickly. That allowed us to schedule more shoots in a day. Because of this all-in-one design, I noticed that it took more time to break down our c-stands than it did to break down and pack up our lights.
It’s no wonder NAB awarded Kino Flo Celebs “best new light” in 2014.
As for that unsolved murder? It’s a long-standing mystery, one that our team believes deserves a new hearing in the court of public opinion. So stay tuned.
DPA 4061 lavalier mic with DAK4060 Accessory Kit and adapters
For my documentary film work, I’ve been pretty satisfied with my Tram TR50s over the past few years. But when the mic capsule came loose for the second time on one of them, I was in the mood to try something new. After reading some reviews, I picked the DPA D:screet 4061 lav mic.
Why I chose DPA
It’s modular, using micro-dot connector adapters that allow the mic to work with virtually any professional audio device (i.e., XLR, Sennheiser, Lectrosonics, etc).
DPA makes a whole line of well designed accessories designed to make it easy to hide the mic.
It sounds great under clothing using the included capsule for boosting high frequencies. It also comes with a capsule that boosts the mid frequencies for use when outside of clothing.
The built quality is excellent, and it’s designed to withstand hours of sweaty performance.
The biggest surprise with the 4061 is how great it sounds under clothing when hidden. And how easy it is to hide using the DMM0012 Miniature Concealer. DPA makes some special two-sided round tape (ADH0002 Double-Sided Tape for Miniature Concealer), which is amazing stuff. You place the mic in the concealer, apply a piece of tape, then stick the mic anywhere inside your subject’s clothing, or on their chest directly. Using this setup, the mic us MUCH quieter under clothing than my TR50s ever were. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I can tell you that it just works. Something about the capsule of the TR50 makes it especially sensitive to clothing rustle.
One note: The DPA Microphones DPADH0004 double-sided tape costs $14 for 10 strips. When it arrived, I discovered it’s actually just Top-stick 1″x3″ toupe tape repackaged by DPA. You can buy 100 strips for the same price on Amazon.
DPA has made a video with some tips on how to hide their mics (or any others, really) under clothing:
I’ve taken the time to decipher some of the materials described in this video.
Molton cloth – it’s the European name for what we call Duvetyne here in the US.
I’ve also had a Rode lav for a few years, and it’s another decent sounding mic for dialog that uses micro-dot connectors. However, Rode’s implementation of the connectors is much less robust than those found on the DPA mics. The DPA mic has a locking connector, which is thicker, while the Rode connectors do not lock, and feel pretty flimsy. But they have held solid so far.
Rode vs. DPA micro dot connectors
The Rode lav is also easy to hide under clothing using their Invisilav silicon mic concealers. But in my experience the double-sided tape on these tends to come off very easily, and is very fiddly to apply. The double-sided taping system that DPA makes for their concealer is definitely superior.
Quality has a price
If you’re looking to save money, the 4061 probably won’t be your first choice. The 4061 with microdot termination is $449. You’ll need to add at least one connector, and locking connector for Sennheiser Evolution wireless systems is $100; for an XLR connector it’s $115. The accessory kit padded case, pictured above, adds another $134 and includes a magnetic connector. The mic alone comes in a smaller clear, hard-plastic case. The concealer and it’s yellow double-sided tape stickers is sold separately.
The good news is that high-quality sound equipment evolves slowly (unlike cameras, which get upgrades every few months, it seems). It’s very likely that this mic will still be on the job 10 years from now. If you look at it that way, it’s a bargain!
It’s as bright as an Arri 650. It’s an LED. It’s rated at 98 cri. But wait, there’s more. It can output any color in the spectrum. And it’s just $799? Wow, if this thing is for real, lighting junkies like me have a lot to look forward to. This beautiful piece of engineering from Hive Lighting is scheduled to begin shipping in March.
Hive Lighting makes high-quality fixtures used in Hollywood productions, and they have earned a great reputation for innovation with their plasma lights. The WASP 100-C is their first foray into the fast-changing world of film LED lighting.
The WASP 100-C will work with a wide range of accessories, including a mini source four attachment that should allow you to throw a narrow slice of light all the way across the room, no flagging required.