After years of Nikon DSLRs for stills (from D70 to D810) I have recently adopted Micro Four Thirds (M43) for both stills and filmmaking: with close-focus like most in their 50s, a mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder seemed a wise move, and I was getting sick of lugging a rucksack of full-frame gear up scaffolding ladders to the top of cathedrals and castles for the day job. I already had a couple of M43 bodies (Lumix GX80) and some Panasonic lenses, so added a few more lenses and a Panasonic Lumix G9: in 2020/2021 this is a real bargain, with 10-bit internal recording giving near-GH5-like video, on top of much better stills (not least the 80MP high-resolution mode).
But, for video, there is the real issue of manual focus: Panasonic lenses are all focus by wire, as is increasingly the way of the world (e.g. the new Nikon Z lenses). Without proper physical manual focus I wouldn’t be able to use a follow focus. I wasn’t that impressed using my manual focus Nikkor lenses with adapters. OK, I had manual focus, but they are not really designed for video. So begun a bit of research on proper cinema (or cine) lenses for M43 cameras, in the course of which I stumbled across the Meike T2.2 lenses (see Humcrush Productions for the most thorough review of these by far), and have just kicked off with the 16mm. This gives me 32mm full-frame equivalent (I wonder how long I will keep thinking in terms of equivalence?), which is (for my purposes) the most useful focal length – a slightly wide field of view. This changes using the Ex Tele Conv mode, which I have set up at the touch of a button, giving 45mm equivalent in 4k and 86mm equivalent in 1080p, so that is the effect of two or three focal lengths for the price of one prime lens. It is the first cinema lens I have used since college days and a revelation: tack sharp from fully open and with a lovely long-throw (270 degrees) manual focus, with, of course, the gears built in: and being an M43 lens, rather than a full-frame lens with an M43 mount option, it is a nice compact size. Taking my old Lanparte follow focus, using a compact Smallrig baseplate (1674) and 6″ rods, I now have a wonderfully compact rig (not some behemoth designed to impress) that is easy to handhold steadily. When really needed, I have an external monitor (Swit CM55-C), top handle, and a lightweight matte box/flag (Tilta MB-T15), but none of this renders the set-up too clunky.
Now which Meike T2.2 lens can I smuggle into the house next?
Minimalist rig with follow focus
Rig with top handle
Rig with external monitor and lightweight matte box
Recording a singer-pianist seems so simple, but it is nothing of the sort. Recording a piano itself is hard enough: do you go for one of the wide range of classical approaches to mic positioning (and if so which one?), placing the piano in its (hopefully) good room acoustic, or do you adopt a closer mic technique used more for jazz, rock and pop? And then how do you avoid spill from the piano in the vocal mic and vice versa? Avoiding, or reducing, such spill, of course, cuts the chances of phase issues and lets you edit or process the tracks differently: perhaps a bit more added reverb or compression on the vocal. Overdubbing would make life easier, but, naturally enough, not many singer-songwriters wish to do that: it is unfamiliar and risks the greater problem of a sterile recording. Norwich-based singer-songwriter Ginny Dix certainly wanted to play and sing at the same time and, just to make life fun, required her performance to be filmed at the same time during the recording of her new song, ‘Woman’, in 2017 (recorded in the Barbirolli Room in the Ethelbert Gate at Norwich Cathedral).
I’d previously recorded and filmed Ginny’s song ‘Run Away‘ at the Wharf Academy in 2016, with help from three others. This time, however, I was on my own, so cut out the crane shots and kept it simple: one locked-off shot along the piano, a second tripod shot mostly locked off for close-ups, and one handheld camera moving around, all the time while monitoring the sound and watching those meters. A couple more arms would be helpful. Kit was small and simple as usual: a Lumix GX80, a Lumix LX100, a Nikon D810, a Rode NT55 omni pair for the piano, and an AKG CK93 hypercardioid for vocals. Far from perfect, I know, but it worked out OK: it was interesting to use an SDC on vocals instead of just grabbing the usual LDC. And, yes, Ginny prefers quite a bit of reverb on her voice so that was enhanced with a convolution reverb while editing in Reaper.
As live music goes, this was about as easy as it gets for the sound-engineer: the band (Rattlebox) decided on a long weekend in the south of Spain in May 2019, to play a largely acoustic gig at a bar and to busk for the first time. That meant no PA and no mixing, but I tagged along for the craic and took the chance to make a short film. Not as simple as you might think: the handy flight from Norwich to Malaga was delayed, and we only arrived in La Tahá in the Alpujarras in the early hours, and there was never a chance to catch-up on sleep. The band kept pace with the lack of sleep and the booze, but, goodness, I felt rough: getting too old for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle? And equipment-wise, things were tricky: it was nearly all hand luggage to keep costs low and to squeeze into the single seven-seater hire car, with underpants and socks stuffed into musical instruments, and my cabin baggage allocation mostly given over to the band. So I bought a Páramo Halkon traveller jacket with 15 pockets, which I stuffed with gear for that low-rent Hulk/shoplifter look. As for the gear, well that was mainly a Lumix GX80 camera with a Zhiyun Crane M gimbal, and a Sony M10 recorder with a stereo pair of Primo EM172-based Clippy mics): can’t get much more minimal than that.
It was a lively gig at the La Cueva de Mora Luna in Mecina Fondales on the Friday night, even if slightly surreal with cars driving past between the band and the audience. Spectacular pizzas afterwards on the house. The next night we were invited to a wake in the neighbouring hamlet of Ferreirola (never met the chap alive) and ended up muscling a grand piano down impossibly narrow streets followed by a local on her penny whistle. And on the Sunday we made it to Granada for busking. No time to visit the Alhambra, but made enough for dinner. Satisfying.
Anyway, here’s a rather rough and ready film that captures something of the weekend. The first song (Hares on the Mountain) was recorded back home in Norfolk, outside in the woods with a pair of Rode NT55s with the omni NT45-O capsules.