DSLRs are great for a whole load of reasons (more on them in a bit) but they have one major limitation which is putting a lot of people off. They can only record for around 12 minutes in one continuous go. I say around as it’s not exact, we’ve had it go for as long as 16 minutes before it stops. For many, they cannot see how they can possibly record a ceremony or speeches which can go on for an hour when the camera will cut out after 12 minutes. But you can, easily, and we will tell you how we, and indeed many others manage it.
For those that are new to DSLRs or don’t know and have no idea what I am going on about allow me to explain. Due to the way the cameras store data onto the memory card no one file can be larger than 4GB in size. It just so happens that when recording at 1080p this is how big the video file gets when recording for around 12 minutes. As a result, when this limit is reached the camera simply stops recording. Now, the cool thing is, you can just hit record again and keep going. In fact, a 32GB card will usually hold around 90 minutes broken down into 12 minute chunks.
So, how do we get around this? Simples, we NEVER let the camera get to the limit and stop recording. The camera has a habit of doing this right in the middle of an important moment. So we stop and restart recording at a time which suits us. This could be after 6 minutes, it could be after 11 minutes. We also record all of our audio separately and constantly. First, let me give you a little video guide on what we do. Or, if you prefer to have a read or want more details then read on.
AUDIO IS YOUR CONSTANT
Lets cover this off first. We, like nearly every other DSLR shooter record all of our audio for the ceremony and speeches (just those bits) separately. Our particular setup for the ceremony is a Sennheiser G3, omni directional lapel mic on the groom which transmits back to the receiver which we connect to a Zoom H4N. You don’t have to use the H4N, others use the H1 and sometimes plug that directly into the lapel mic and place it in the grooms pocket. We also place another H4N on the lectern or near to where the readings will take place. For the speeches this is either jacked into the handheld mic soundboard or if we know the frequency of the handheld mic we simply tune one of our receivers into it. We love the Zoom series because they have no audio drift and sync perfectly with the DSLR footage. We also have some Olympus recorders but they tend to get our of sync after a little while.
The great thing about these devices is that they record constantly with no gaps and no 12 minute limits. This gives you something to sync your various cameras with later on.
WHEN TO STOP AND START
But when is a good time to do this in a church service which can last 45 minutes or speeches which can go for an hour? If you think about it, there are plenty of opportunity to stop and start and it takes just 0.7 seconds to hit that button and hit it again. That’s right, less than 1 single second!
With that in mind I bet you can now think of a million moments where you can do this and with a civil ceremony you can often get the whole thing into a single take.
Let’s take a church service as the first example. For us, the first chance to stop and start is right after the first hymn, your about 6 minutes in, people are shuffling their seats, getting sat down, the vicar is reaching for his order of service. All this takes around 10 seconds or so and given that you need just 0.7 seconds you can stop and start before their bottoms have hit the seat. The next chance is again… after the next set of hymns which is about 8 minutes later. But what about speeches? For us we use moments where people clap or laugh as a great chance to restart our cameras. See the video above for some examples.
MIND THE GAP
So you have this constant audio but you have video with these teeny tiny gaps. What to do? If you’re a single camera kind of guy/gal then you have 2 choices. Either fill the gap with some B roll such as a cutaway of the pew ends, chair sashes a stained glass window or crossfade the gap away. Or, if like us you shoot multi cam you simply cutaway to the other camera. As long as you both don’t stop and start at that exact moment in time. One way we avoid that is through the use of walkie talkies although without so much talkie. Each member of the Minty team has a walkie and a secret service style earpiece. Hopefully you never noticed it in the video above. We use these throughout the day to coordinate our shots and function like we have a runner but we also use a cool feature they have to communicate during those times where you can’t talk. When you press and release the talk button the others hear a single ‘BEEP!’ sound. This means ‘LOOK AT ME!’. They can then give a signal to the other shooters and in most cases it’s the hold sign (see the video above). This means stop moving, zooming, panning and lock off the camera. This then allows me to move or in most cases simply stop and restart my recording. The other shooter at some point will then do the same thus staggering our recording and leaving no gaps.
However you choose to do it you should be able to deliver to your client a seamless, complete ceremony or speeches. For us, we deliver shortform so this gives us more flexibility in our editing.
So you have your ceremony recorded onto 2 audio files and each camera has around 4-5 video clips that you now need to sync up. Now you just place your audio on your time line and match the video clips with this. Remember, audio is your constant. If you use the audio waveform it should be easy to identify the peaks and patterns which match but another option is to have your editing software do this for you with a plugin like PluralEyes. From a personal view we have tried this and while it does work it can get it wrong. It also takes a while to do it, about the same amount of time it takes us to do it manually so we prefer to let our own eyes do the syncing.
WHY DID WE SWITCH?
Your still reading, good on you. We saw what others were producing and really enjoyed the results. So we bought a Canon 7D with a Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens (with the crop factor of this camera the lens is more like a 50mm) and planned to film a few bits of B’roll. After we saw the results that was it, we were smitten. The footage, especially on a 50mm lens just ‘feels’ more natural and pleasing to the human eye. The progressive footage is also what we are all more used to when watching a Hollywood movie. We also enjoyed how the shallow depth of field allowed us to tell the viewer what we wanted them to look at, who we wanted them to look at. We could use the shallow DOF as a storytelling tool, shifting focus as we moved the story along. It is true that shooting with DSLR is more challenging and more work but its this extra work which makes you a better shooter. You can’t zoom so this will mean adopting a new style and using sliders if you want that effect. The same goes for shooting handheld. Also, people are used to DSLRs as everyone has one, they are more relaxed around them and no longer turn their backs to us. People also don’t know they are being filmed (even with a RODE on top) and keep talking which gives us that natural background audio. When you watch your work shot on a traditional camera and the same work shot on DSLR, you will find yourself enjoying the DSLR footage more.
HOW WE SWITCHED
We started by using the 7D as a 3rd camera. Then, we moved one of our traditional cameras to the side and replaced it with the 7D as our B camera. Once we were comfortable with the 7D replacing our normal cameras we stopped using one of our regular cameras. Over the months we purchased a Canon 5DMK2 and replaced our other camera. We filmed a few ceremonies using just the 7D and the 5DMK2 but had a regular camera, to the side just in case. Once we were comfortable with the DSLRs we stopped using the regular cameras altogether.
There is so much more involved when looking to switch to DSLRs but I didn’t want this post to go on for much longer. So if you have any specific questions about DSLRs or how we work the feel free to ask in the comments box below. Also, if you like it, hit the little button down there.