All Posts By

Roland

Audio Projects Film Projects

Acoustic recording and video – in a summerhouse

June 24, 2021
Relaxed and ready to record: left to right, Richard Poynton, Lucy Grubb and Richard Ward.

As part of the promotion of her new EP, Lucy Grubb was keen to have videos made of acoustic performances of a couple of the tracks, to be made very simply in the summerhouse of her banjo player/guitarist, Richard Ward. This involved just two members of the band, providing backing vocals, guitars and banjo, so quite different from the full band, studio recordings on the EP.

With simplicity being the order of the day, and minimal set-up time, I went for a mid-side pair of SDC mics: the AKG CK94 fig 8 as the side mic and the CK93 hypercardioid as the mid mic, into a Sound Devices MixPre-3 recorder. Just to have an extra option, I also rigged up a third mic – a Rode NT55 with the cardioid capsule – as an alternative mid mic, but this really wasn’t the right polar pattern: the main challenges were the balance of the three performers (with a focus on Lucy’s lead vocal) and the difficult acoustic of the fairly narrow untreated summerhouse, all while trying to have a visually unintrusive set up. With hindsight, and given that birdsong is clear in the recordings anyway (in part due to the open doors behind the camera view in the photo above), I think I’d have preferred to record outside under the gazebo you can see in the background: but the band were warmed up and ready to go and, besides, the free-range chickens might have been more challenging still…

On the video side, I simply ran three Lumix cameras: a G9 close to hand on a fluid-head tripod so that I could move it as necessary, and a pair of GX80s on static tripods. Very basic, but it gives the two videos a bit more interest than a single static shot, without stretching the one-man audio recording and filming too far. We did two takes of the first song and three of the second, selecting the best in each case: there was no audio editing at all (processing was limited to a bit of compression and a little reverb), and the video editing was simple too (with colours left as straight off the cameras).

Mid-side recording, with the CK94 (centre in the photo) and CK93 (bottom): the NT55 cardioid mic (top) was not used. Incidentally, you can see the lower profile of the old-style Rycote back-to-back clips (between the bottom two mics) vs the clunkier newer-style clips (between the top two mics) with the wider spacing this brings.
And here’s the video/recording of one of the songs, ‘Waste My Time’.

Film Projects

A second music video for Lucy Grubb

June 18, 2021
Lucy making friends with Annie the shire horse.

After the fun with You Don’t Do Anything, it was great to be invited by Lucy Grubb to make a second music video – in this case for another of the four songs on her recent EP. This time the song was the more reflective title track – Waste My Time. And for this video, it was to feature Lucy only rather than the full band and to be filmed in rural Norfolk locations. With the May weather being such a washout, my plans for a few evening shoots – catching the wonderful light of the ‘golden hour’ before sunset – bit the dust, and we had to film everything in the harsh sunlight on the last Sunday of the month so as to have the video ready for release a week after the EP. After a brief visit to Stiffkey marshes – where the mud and half-filled creeks threatened Lucy’s outfit – we moved on to the rather implausibly located Iron Age hillfort at Warham (with its ramparts and solitary holm oak tree), then blooming oilseed rape fields, the stable and paddocks of a friend (to meet up with the star of the video – Annie the shire horse), and, finally, Swanton Novers Wood. Things went pretty smoothly, even – in spite of Fields’s warning to never work with children or animals – the shire horse session: Annie is a gentle giant and seemed unruffled by this being Lucy’s first time up close to a horse.

Filming involved a simple equipment list: a Lumix G9 with both the Meike T2 cinema lens and the Leica Lumix 12-60mm (the latter for shots with the gimbal – the Zhiyun Crane v2); and a drone for the intro and outro shots (using the diminutive DJI Mavic Mini). To keep things simple, I avoided lip syncing for the drone shots, but the rest was synced – as before – with the pre-recorded track played back through a Bluetooth speaker. Again, I edited in Vegas, giving it a fairly heavy grade to match the previous video: well insofar as possible given the very different weather and light.

You can play the song on Spotify and here’s the finished video:

Audio Gear DIY Projects

Mid-side with AKG CK94

May 25, 2021
AKG CK94 (top) and CK93 (bottom) in Rode Mk1 blimp suspension

I’ve had one of the AKG Blueline mics for years. This has the CK93 capsule, which is an excellent mid-price hypercardioid SDC mic that has proved great for booming indoor (and, on occasion, outdoor) dialogue. I have also used it for music recording where I needed a narrower polar pattern than cardioid. It is leagues above my Oktava MK012 hypercardioid – so beloved by indie filmmakers – in terms of build quality, handling noise, and features (having low-cut and attenuation switches).

From time to time I’ve wondered about the other interchangeable capsules in the Blueline range and, above all, about the CK94 – the figure of eight capsule. Of course LDC multi-pattern mics include a fig 8 polar pattern and, paired with another mic, this allows mid-side recording, which I have done many a time. And, as I have posted, with a massive DIY blimp I have even got such an LDC pair outside for field recording. That said, it would be useful and, for most uses, more practical to have a compact SDC mid-side pair. The standard for field-recording pros is the Sennheiser MKH30, which, while excellent and with the advantage of humidity-beating RF technology, has the distinct disadvantage of cost: it has a street price of around £1500, and even used ones seem rare below £1000. Add another Sennheiser MKH mic (say an MKH40) and wind protection to fit and you will need to spend £3000 or more. Unlike other polar patterns, SDC fig 8s are rare, and there are few more affordable ones: ignoring the clunky pseudo fig 8s made by Oktava and Kortwich (made using two cardioids mounted back-to-back, giving a T-shaped mic), the only affordable true single -diaphragm fig 8 other than the AKG CK94 is the Ambient ATE208 Emesser. The latter, however, has a lot of bass roll-off due to it being tailored to match the off-axis response of a shotgun mic (its intended partner). Recently, boutique Taiwanese mic-maker B9Audio has produced the CM180, but it is only available direct from the maker: so this means significant shipping and duty costs need to be added to the US$749 price. Reviews are also thin on the ground to say the least.

So, with all this in mind, the AKG CK94 remains the most viable affordable SDC fig 8 for general usage (i.e. music as well as film sound). Although now out of production (AKG/Harman/Samsung appear to be phasing out the whole Blueline family and the CK94 was the first to be discontinued), at the time of writing it is just possible to find one or two new examples for sale: with the SE 300B amplifier/mic body, street price is around £600. But I’ve been keeping my eye on the used market, and was please to spot one on the Saturn Sound website (where there is a list for a grand closing down sale of mics – with some very rare examples), and – together with the SE300B amplifier/mic body – the other day I became the owner of a very good condition example: indeed, during a pre-sales check, Ashley Styles of Saturn Sound thought the capsule a bit noisy and replaced it with one he still had. All this, plus delivery in person (he has retired not so far away), for a remarkably affordable £200.

I had no concerns about the CK94 for music or louder effects recording, but, with 22dBA self-noise (a long way from the MKH30’s 13dBA) my hopes were low for recording quieter ambiences. So I was surprised how good it sounded during an initial test recording the ambient noise in the garden (in a village in rural Norfolk). You can have listen here:

I was expecting something much noisier.

In terms of rigging it up for field recording, I purchased a couple of the older style (i.e. lower profile) back-to-back clips made by Rycote (ref. no. 048460), which, unlike the new fit-any-mic clips Rycote make for MS pairs, neatly fit into a Rode Mk1 blimp and have lugs to attach to the suspension bands: the mics sit centrally and with a healthy blimp diameter of 100mm there is still plenty of air space around both mics. The CK94 has to project further forward given the location of its capsule (the centres of the two capsules should align, of course). I’ve added a DIY conn box equivalent (a clamp for the two thin cables – Sommer Cicada – that go from the mics to the DIY boompole-top XLR holder) to avoid the two heavier cables entering the blimp, so I’m there with a very nice sounding SDC mid-side rig for a very modest outlay. And, of course, I can use the AKG C94 with mid-mics other than the hypercardioid CK93: for example, my Rode NT55 mics give me cardioid and omni mid-mic options. I’ll post other recordings – including music – with the CK94-based mid-side rig in due course.

With blimp on, and showing the double XLR holder at the top of the boompole
And a close-up of the DIY double XLR holder at the top of the boompole
Film Projects

Music video with Lucy Grubb

April 27, 2021
Filming by the side of the Bridewell in Norwich

With things easing from lockdown on 12 April, it has been good to hear of musical life picking up a bit and, in that spirit, I was glad to be asked by Lucy Grubb to film a music video for a single (You Don’t Do Anything) from her upcoming next EP release. Lucy is a Norfolk-based country and Americana singer/songwriter, who has been carving out a name for herself and her band, not least at various music festivals.

In this case the music was pre-recorded in the studio, so it was the usual case of miming to the track. When I say usual, I think I’ve only done one like this before, so it was a fun exercise for me, from planning through to editing. The idea (which fitted the theme of the song) was to have Lucy moving forwards continually throughout the video, passing through or past the band members (Kevin Burton, Piers Hunt, Richard Poynton, Richard Ward and Paul Weston), with locations – all around Norwich – changing fairly frequently.

So it was a lot of backward-tracking camerawork. I tested out the old wheelchair as dolly idea (think of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless), but, while doubtless fine for smooth-floored interiors, it was clear it wouldn’t be one for pavements or, even, cobbled streets, so I stopped being lazy and used a gimbal (a Zhiyun Crane v2). Eschewing my Meike T2 cinema lens-based rig with follow-focus, I went for the lighter Leica Lumix 12-60mm on my Lumix G9, using autofocus just to lock on focus for each shot (but not to track focus) and avoided any wafer-thin depth-of-field shots. I’m not sure what the serious pros use for playback of the audio track, but we managed fine with a linked pair of Bluetooth speakers: one by the camera and Lucy, and one by the band. Loud enough, especially for early on a Sunday morning (dodging the post-lockdown shopping throngs). Despite my rust, all went well on the shoot last weekend, not least thanks to two helpers (good to have band members old enough to have teenage offspring), and with the weather settling down to the hoped-for grey sky with enough wind to give (guitarist) Richard Poynton’s long Covid hair sufficient movement… I edited in Vegas, giving it a fairly heavy grade tied into the muted colours of the band and, indeed, the locations (see pics).

You can play the song on Spotify and here’s the finished video:

And filming at Elm Hill

Camera Gear DIY Projects

This camera is not for turning…

March 25, 2021
Compact follow-focus rig with an anti-twist Arca-type plate.

The best ideas for inventions are those that turn out to have already been thought of and produced. OK, that means you can’t make your fortune, but odds are you wouldn’t make the leap from an idea hatched in the shower to a production line anyway: and, anyway, you can go out and buy the thing with none of the hassle of being the next James Dyson. This happened to me with my genius solution to feeling all tangled up and constrained by sleeping bags when camping: just imagine if the sleeping bag had separate legs and arms? Well, as you probably know but I didn’t, you can buy these already…

To the case in hand, I’ve long been frustrated how stills cameras rotate all too easily on tripods, fixed (in the loosest sense of the word) by a single 1/4″ screw and lacking the additional pin hole found on camcorders. With stills cameras then moving into video and, for cinematic focusing, then needing follow focuses, the need for anti-rotation got all the more compelling. While camera companies vie about 4k and 8k, or 10-bit and raw on mirrorless cameras, nobody seems remotely bothered to drill a hole in the base to allow a second pin to stop rotation. An L-bracket or a cage can sometimes solve the problem, but, unless you need one, they are clunky additions, making access to controls and connections much harder and losing the carefully designed ergonomics of the camera. Also, many L-brackets and cages are just not rigid enough or not fixed to the camera well enough. With my compact – and cageless – follow-focus rig for my Lumix G9 I’ve found the old problem rearing its head, with the camera sometimes gradually rotating away from the follow focus to the point that, eventually, the gear disengages. So my genius ‘invention’? Well, simply a small Arca-style plate with a ridge at the front, forming a snug fit against the front of the camera: with the G9’s flip screen there is no value in a ridge or lip at the rear. Visions of finding someone who could mill one for me proved unnecessary since, as you will have guessed, the idea has already been thought of. Oddly, though, I haven’t simply missed something common, as such plates are incredibly obscure. Arca themselves sell an anti-twist plate (the blandly named ‘Kameraplatte 40mm’) as do Really Right Stuff (the equally unrevealingly named ‘B9 Multi-use bidirectional plate’), but both are extremely pricey for a small bit of metal with a lip (€63 and $49 respectively), need an allen key to tighten, and are hard to find in the UK. And then I came across the plates made by the Colorado Tripod Company in the USA: a perfectly sized 40mm plate (they do 60mm and 85mm-long versions too) with a bolted-on lip, and, unbelievably (since their well-made kit isn’t generally cheap), available for $10 (in my case £9 on Amazon UK). It turned up today, and is a supremely well-engineered plate, and even includes miniature bubble levels: you can tighten it with fingers or a coin. I might not have made my fortune with a new invention, but it hasn’t cost me a fortune either: I just wish I’d realized, and hunted for, the solution to camera twisting before.

UPDATE 18.6.2021. Well, sadly my optimism about the off-the-peg anti-twist plate wasn’t entirely merited: after a month or so in use I found the plate still undoing from time to time: not as badly as before, but enough to be frustrating. The reason for this is evidently the slot (instead of a hole) for the screw, also common to the more expensive offerings from Arca and Really Right Stuff, which, while designed to allow fitting of the plate to different cameras, allows the screw to loosen when used with a follow-focus. Doubtless, the designers didn’t have that in mind. What is needed, evidently, is a plate with a hole rather than a slot for the screw, which, of course, means a plate designed perfectly for the camera body. So, after all, it was necessary to DIY something: I simply added an aluminium bar at exactly the right point (with some very careful sub-millimetre measurements) to an existing Arca plate and – voilà – at last I have got there: in use it has proved reliably rigid.

Colorado Tripod Company anti-twist Arca-type quick-release plate with lip at the front or rear. The detachable front/rear part with the lip (and bubble levels) is bolted on from below and further aligned by two pins that slide into the main part of the plate. Sadly, like any such lipped plate with slot for the screw (which allows it to fit many different cameras), it will still loosen under the duress of a follow-focus.
My modified Arca-style plate with the screw through a hole and an aluminium bar bolted on so as to perfectly abut the front of a Lumix G9. Not pretty, perhaps, but at last rock solid with a follow-focus.
And here’s the DIY-modified plate on the camera. I’ll probably paint the aluminium addition black in due course, but, meanwhile, it is clearer for these photos.