Posts Tagged ‘film’

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The incredibly compact microphones that get attached to a person’s clothing in order to pick up their speaking voice are called “lavalier” microphones. They’re also referred to as “lapel” microphones. These microphones can serve a number of purposes, but to capture someone’s voice inconspicuously is by far their most common use. Don’t let their small size fool you. The most important voices in broadcasting, politics, and the entertainment world all have to wear lavaliers. They have to sound good.

Lavalier microphones are used both wirelessly and with microphone cables. This article’s focus is on the nature of the microphones themselves, regardless of how they connect to their source. It should be noted that with wireless lavalier microphones, the type of connectors that attach the microphone to the transmitter of the wireless system vary greatly. If you’re curious about what kind of lavalier microphones you can use with your specific wireless system, don’t hesitate to call us at 1-800-947-9923.

The need for a lavalier arises when hands-free operation is required, and when the sound must be clearly picked up without the obtrusive visual presence of a larger microphone. These circumstances can also apply when a shotgun microphone is used, but lavalier microphones offer certain advantages shotguns cannot. Lavaliers are usually only a matter of inches away from a subject’s mouth, so the audio quality is often more present and consistent. A shotgun microphone usually requires an extra person to operate a boompole, but lavaliers function without manual assistance. Lavalier and shotgun microphones don’t necessarily replace one another; in fact, they’re commonly used in conjunction with one another during a production.

Lavalier Mic
Using a lavalier clip with two holders allows you to create a loop in the cable to cut down on vibration noise.

There are a few different pick-up patterns available in various lavalier microphones. The most popular pattern is omnidirectional. A common misconception about omnidirectional microphones is that they pick up the sound of an entire space, no matter how far away the microphone is from the person’s mouth. This is not so. Omnidirectional does not mean omnipotent-directional. Omnidirectional lavalier microphones are popular because they tend to sound the best. Also, when the person who is wearing the mic turns their head while they’re speaking, there is no dip in volume because there is no area in the pick-up pattern the microphone is trying to cancel out. Another reason for their popularity is that they are physically smaller than the cardioid lavaliers.

Cardioid lavaliers are really only used in high-noise environments, or when feedback from monitors in a live sound situation becomes an issue. In both of these cases it’s often a better idea to use a headset microphone as opposed to a cardioid lavalier.

Lavalier microphones are used universally in TV and film production, as well in live stage productions and houses of worship. In theater it’s common practice to conceal a lavalier microphone in the hair or the wig of the performer. In film production lavalier microphones are often hidden beneath clothing. This is done in situations where the microphone needs to go completely unseen.

When a lavalier is obscured behind hair or clothing, some of the high frequencies can get cut because the microphone is physically muffled. Manufacturers compensate for this by designing and building lavaliers with a boosted high frequency response. Because of its flat physical shape and its excellent sound quality, the Tram TR-50 is a popular choice for a microphone to conceal under clothing.

Voice Technology VT506
This Voice Technologies VT506 features a 6dB high frequency bump. It also includes various mic clips and a microphone cage.
Countryman B3
Due to its extremely small size and resistance to moisture, the Countryman B3 is widely used for hiding in a performer’s hair or wig.  Countryman also makes a lavalier with a high frequency boost that’s good for concealing, the EMW Peaked Frequency Response.
EMW Peaked Frequency Response.

Lavaliers can be used for a variety of purposes, in a number of different ways. From surveillance operations to sound effects creation, their miniature size finds its way where other microphones cannot. Musicians will sometimes use lavalier microphones on their instruments. The multi-tasking Audio Technica AT831B comes with one clip to attach the microphone to your clothing, and a second clip to attach the microphone to a musical instrument.

Below we have listed some popular accessories that work universally with all lavalier microphones:

Microcats – These are little fuzz balls that fit snuggly over lavalier microphones in order to cut down on wind noise. They enable you to use a lavalier in a high wind environment.

Undercovers – A disposable system from Rycote that enables you to mount the microphone under clothing (you don’t need a clip), and it prevents rustling and contact noise as well. This is an excellent solution for use with lavaliers that do not have a microphone “cage” accessory available.

Stickies – An adhesive pad from Rycote that allows you to easily mount a lavalier to clothing or skin.

Overcovers – A disposable system from Rycote that enables you to easily mount a lavalier microphone to clothing or skin, and protect the microphone from wind noise when used in high wind environments. Microcats.

RKR Micro – An inexpensive universal microphone clip solution.

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There are currently (2011) three main frame rate standards in the TV and movie-making business: 24p, 25p, and 30p. However there are many variations on these as well as newer emerging standards.

  • 50i (50 interlaced fields = 25 frames) is the standard video field rate per second for PAL and SECAM television.
  • 60i (actually 59.94, or 60 x 1000/1001 to be more precise; 60 interlaced fields = 29.97 frames) is the standard video field rate per second for NTSC television (e.g. in the US), whether from a broadcast signal, DVD, or home camcorder. This interlaced field rate was developed separately by Farnsworth and Zworykin in 1934,[1] and was part of the NTSC television standards mandated by the FCC in 1941. When NTSC color was introduced in 1953, the older rate of 60 fields per second was reduced by a factor of 1000/1001 to avoid interference between the chroma subcarrier and the broadcast sound carrier.
  • 30p, or 30-frame progressive, is a noninterlaced format and produces video at 30 frames per second. Progressive (noninterlaced) scanning mimics a film camera’s frame-by-frame image capture. The effects of inter-frame judder are less noticeable than 24p yet retains a cinematic-like appearance. Shooting Video in 30p mode gives no interlace artifacts but can introduce judder on image movement and on some camera pans. The widescreen film process Todd-AO used this frame rate in 1954–1956.
  • The 24p frame rate is also a noninterlaced format, and is now widely adopted by those planning on transferring a video signal to film. Film and video makers use 24p even if their productions are not going to be transferred to film, simply because of the on-screen “look” of the (low) frame rate which matches native film. When transferred to NTSC television, the rate is effectively slowed to 23.976 frame/s, and when transferred to PAL or SECAM it is sped up to 25 frame/s. 35 mm movie cameras use a standard exposure rate of 24 frames per second, though many cameras offer rates of 23.976 frame/s for NTSC television and 25 frame/s for PAL/SECAM. The 24 frame/s rate became the de facto standard for sound motion pictures in the mid-1920s.
  • 25p is a video format that runs twenty-five progressive frames per second. This frame rate derives from the PAL television standard of 50i (or 50 interlaced fields per second). Film and Television companies use this rate in 50 Hz regions for direct compatibility with television field and frame rates. Conversion for 60 Hz countries is enabled by slowing down the media to 24p then converted to 60 Hz systems using pulldown. While 25p captures half the temporal resolution or motion that normal 50i PAL registers, it yields a higher vertical spacial resolution per frame. Like 24p, 25p is often used to achieve “cine”-look, albeit with virtually the same motion artifacts. It is also better suited to progressive-scan output (e.g., on LCD displays, computer monitors and projectors) because the interlacing is absent.
  • 50p and 60p is a progressive format used in high-end HDTV systems. While it is not technically part of the ATSC or DVB broadcast standards, it is rapidly gaining ground in the areas of set-top boxes and video recordings.
  • 72p is currently an experimental progressive scan format. Major institutions such as Snell & Wilcox have demonstrated 720p72 pictures as a result of earlier analogue experiments, where 768 line television at 75 Hz looked subjectively better than 1150 line 50 Hz progressive pictures with higher shutter speeds available (and a corresponding lower data rate).[4] Modern cameras such as the Red, can use this frame rate to produce slow motion replays at 24 frame/s. Douglas Trumbull who undertook experiments with different frame rates which led to the Showscan film format, found that 72 frame/s was the maximum frame rate at which emotional impact peaked for viewers.[5] 72 frame/s is the maximum rate available in the WMV video file format.

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Most video cameras have some sort of audio capture built-in. You can usually find a hole or a slot on some nub-like protrusion towards the front of the camera, behind which rests a tiny microphone. This microphone captures not only the noises your talent make in front of the camera, but also the noises the camera handler makes, the noises the wind makes, and the thump-thump noises the camera operator’s hand makes against the chassis. None of this makes for particularly good audio capture for your video or film project.  Let’s think beyond the camera-mounted microphone.

Tascam DR-1 Recording Device

Even otherwise high-quality consumer-level cameras don’t have many features when it comes to audio. Sure, an accessory hot-shoe may support bolting on a higher-quality microphone than what’s already embedded, but that doesn’t solve all your audio problems. An external microphone connection jack is probably only a tiny 3.5mm terminal suitable only for attaching low-power lavaliere microphones. For great audio, you want a guy with a wind-muff-wrapped shotgun microphone bolted to a boom, pointed right at the talent’s mouth.

The first questions to answer once you decide to graduate from on-camera audio to a separate microphone are: What kind of microphone do you use? What do you plug the microphone into?

The answer to the first question is “a shotgun microphone,” which is recognizable by its long tubular structure and is renowned for its highly directional performance. Because it (mostly) captures only the sounds that you point it at, you can capture high-quality recordings of dialogue without inadvertently recording ambient noise. This means that your microphone needs quickly escalate if you want to also capture environmental/ambient sounds in your scene. A good entry-level shotgun microphone costs between $150 and $300. Higher-end microphones quickly escalate in price.

What you plug your microphone into, if it’s not your camera, is also important. Microphones traditionally attach with a 3-pin XLR connector, which provides an electrically balanced signal path that eliminates noise interference over long cables. It’s possible to use an XLR-to-minijack cable to plug your microphone directly into your camera, but it’s not recommended and probably won’t work. Instead, a microphone should plug into a preamplifier, which takes a low signal from a microphone and turns it into a “line level” signal suitable for mixing, recording, or editing. You’ll need a preamp that can provide 48 volts of “phantom power” to the microphone if you’re using a condenser mic (most good shotgun mics are condenser mics).

If you don’t plug a microphone into your camera, you’ll plug it into some kind of recorder, ideally a computer (a laptop if you’re doing a field recording). The bridge between a microphone and the computer is the “audio interface” which takes care of converting the analog microphone input to a digital output the computer can manipulate and store. Audio interfaces usually include one or more built-in preamps for microphones and use USB or Firewire (IEEE 1394) to connect to the computer. Audio interfaces range from inexpensive USB units ($100) with two preamps to expensive multi-channel rack-mount units with as many as 8 preamps ($400 and up). You’ll need a preamp for every microphone you use, so a two-channel interface is a good place to start if you use a shotgun microphone together with an ambience mic.

The computer needs software to capture the incoming digital audio and mix, manipulate, and save it. Recording software ranges from the free (like Audacity) to the cheap (Garageband, which is not only for garage bands) to the expensive (Apple’s Logic or Adobe’s Soundbooth).

Once a microphone is selected and attached to an audio interface, you must decide what recording settings to use. Digital audio is described in terms of sample rate (the number of “samples” taken each second to represent an analog sound wave) and word size (the number of bits used to describe each sample). For reference, standard CD audio has 44,100 samples per second (44.1 khz) and a 16-bit word size. There’s no magic recording setting, but the higher the numbers the better the audio quality. Even the least expensive audio interfaces from M-Audio or Presonus are capable of providing 24-bits of resolution at 48,000 samples per second. The best rule is to capture the audio at a level at or higher than the settings you’ll use in your postproduction workflow. For most DV or better sequences that will be 48 khz. Most NLEs (including Final Cut and Premiere Pro) use 32-bit floating-point for the audio, so capture at 24-bits if you can and 16-bits if you have to. Do not capture to a compressed file type like MP3. Instead record your audio in uncompressed WAV or AIFF format.

The last big question to answer concerning capturing audio separate from your camera’s microphone is how to sync the audio to the video. The easiest way is to start rolling both the camera and the recorder and use a clapper board to create a sync point. This gives you both a visual (the top of the clapper hitting the bottom) and an audible (the sound of the clapper) cue. Make sure the clapper is audible on all the microphones you’re using. Later, in the editing suite, you can use the clapper as a cue point to synchronize the audio to the video. Remember to use the clapper any time you stop rolling either the camera or the recorder. A timecode break in either means a break in sync.

If you capture a scene with a separate microphone, you don’t necessarily have to disable your camera’s onboard mic. In fact, it can be useful to keep that audio as a reference track in your project — maybe you missed the clapper board or it was at a weird angle, in which case the reference audio from the camera can be used to sync with the good audio from the recorder. Be sure in this case that the camera and the recorder are using the same sample rate to record (any camera you use ought to support 48khz rates, since it’s a DV standard).

Recording separate audio can complicate a shoot. You’ll need at least one more set of hands on your crew; ideally at least two more — one to hold the boom and another to man the mixer/audio interface/recorder, set input levels, and overall ensure a good audio capture. And of course, you need someone to operate the clapper board. You’re the director — it may as well be you!

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Panasonic DVX100b

White Balance

  • White balance tells the camera what each colour should look like, by giving it a “true white” reference.
  • If the camera knows what white looks like, then it will know what all other colours look like because all colours are contained in white.
  • Most cameras do this function automatically .
  • It actually works very well in most situations.
  • Incorrect white balance shows up as pictures with orange or blue tints.

How to do a manual white balance

  • Point the camera at something non-reflective white in the same light as the subject, and frame it so that most or all of the picture is white.
  • Set focus and exposure, then press the “white balance” button.
  • There should be some indicator(usually 2 triangles and a square blinking) in the viewfinder which tells you when the white balance has completed.
  • You should do white balances regularly, especially when lighting conditions change (eg. moving between indoors and outdoors).


  • Auto-focus is strictly for the birds!
  • The focal area is determined by the camera not the operator.
  • And it goes hunting for moving objects, sucking up battery power.
  • Also the internal mic will pick up the motor noise while “hunting”
  • The most common manual focus mechanism is a ring at the front of the lens housing.
  • To obtain the best focus, zoom in as close as you can on the subject you wish to focus on,
  • adjust the ring until the focus is sharp,
  • then zoom out to the required framing.
  • Maximum focus or depth-of-field will be achieved by using a wide angle lens (zoomed back out), a small aperture and lots of light.


  • Auto-Exposure can be used as a guide.
  • If you’re not sure about your exposure, try flicking the Exposure to auto and see what the camera uses, then go back to manual.
  • Find a comparison of various camcorders regarding image quality

Back Lighting

  • When shooting a subject against a strong backlight such as a window or the sky, the camera adjusts the exposure for the strong backlight, which leaves the subject as a silhouette.
  • Some cameras have a “backlight” feature which helps with this problem.
  • To adjust the settings manually, open the iris until the subject is exposed correctly.
  • This will mean the background is too bright, but it’s better than the subject being too dark.


  • Getting good results with audio is actually quite difficult.
  • The internal microphone picks up the hum of the video tape, servo-zoom and autofocus.
  • This is very annoying in playback of the video.
  • To improve it , try plugging an external microphone into the “mic input” socket of your camera.
  • Be careful of wind noise. Even the slightest breeze can ruin your audio.
  • Many cameras have a “low-cut filter”, sometimes referred to as a “wind-noise filter” or something similar.
  • These do help, but a better solution is to block the wind.
  • You can use a purpose-designed wind sock, or try making one yourself.
  • Get a good set of headphones to monitor the audio as you are shooting


  • Buy a microphone intended for camcorder use. It should have a mini jack plug.
  • A WILDTRACK of general ambient background noise(at least 10 seconds) should be taken on every shoot to hide any audio jump cuts during editing . A cardioid or omnidirectional mic will do the job admirably.
  • A BOOM is a powerful external mic placed at the end of a long pole that can record clearer dialogue from a distance.
  • A CARDIOID microphone has a heart-shaped pickup range. It is ideal for recording individual or group(2-4) conversations.
  • An OMNIDIRECTIONAL mic is what is built into your video camera. It has a 360 degree arc and is good at recoriding general audio but poor at picking out specific sounds.
  • A SHOTGUN , or unidirectional mic is best for recording sound straight ahead and at a distance. Good for recording subjects that are hard to get near.
  • A TIE CLIP MIC is a small mic that can be clipped on place to the clothing of a person being interviewed. There can be two types:
    1. Controlled through a cable
    2. Radio – controlled.
  • A CONDENSER is the device commonly found in most mics. It converts the ripples caused by sound into an electrical pulse, which is then recorded.
  • Exercise – Do a search to check out some available mics

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I’m sure you’ve been poking about on the internet and come across many different forums. Have you noticed that everyone is talking about this mysterious thing called “film look”? I’m sure you have.

The way people talk about it, it seems like making your video look like film is the holy grail. I’m sure in your mind this has raised many questions. What is film look? Do I need it and why? How do I get it?

The truth about ‘film look’

If you float around the message boards long enough…you’ll probably be really confused as to what this whole concept is about. Obviously, people are trying to make their digital video look more like film…but how….and why?

Let’s talk about the “why” aspect first.

Why make your video look like film

Many people just assume film is better so it only makes sense to try and make your video look like film. That may be your opinion, but you can get yourself into trouble thinking this way. Many people who think film is better will do anything to make their video look like film, even if that means putting ‘dust and scratches’ effects on their video. The result of doing something like that is video that looks like it has scratches on top of it.

The real reason to strive to make video look like film is because audiences are used to the look of film when watching a movie. If your movie is shot on video, people will notice that the movie looks different than what they are used to seeing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Video has a look of realism and if you are trying to portray a gritty realistic story then video great. However, if you are trying to portray a mystical fantasy world, video could be distracting to your audience.

Ultimately though, you have to shoot with what you have. So rather than strive to make your video look like film, make it your goal to make the best possible looking image for the medium you are shooting.

That being said, lets discuss some of the differences between video and film, how to compensate for them, and when you should just leave things alone.

Film look demystified

There are a variety of components that make film look different than digital video.

1. Dynamic Range – Film has the ability to capture much bigger variations in light intensity. Have you ever seen video where the sky is completely white? The sky is white because when the camera’s CCD chip sees something so bright it can’t translate it. Instead it says “that is so bright…its just white”. The same is true on the dark side. If something is too dark, the camera just assumes it is black. Digital video has a very limited range of intensity it can see, while HD is slightly more, and film is drastically greater (several F-stops.)
* How to compensate – This is probably the hardest thing to overcome when working with video. In some very expensive cameras you can do somethings to slightly improve this…but that is a subject way to complex for this article. Instead, the best thing you can do is to prevent this limitation from distracting your audience. The number one distraction caused by this is blown out highlights..aka the white sky. You should try to do everything you can to avoid blown out highlights. You do this by exposing for the brightest thing in the scene. Outdoors, this could cause your subject to become very dark, so its a good idea to have a big reflector to bounce light onto your subject. Or block out some of the suns light with what is called a butterfly scrim. Here is a great tutorial on how to build a scrim.
* When in doubt underexpose – That statement probably sends chills down the spine of a professional cinematographer because it sounds like such bad advice. However, rarely do I see a single shot that seems so underexposed that some post production treatments can’t save them. Shots that are too bright, however, are very difficult to treat.
2. Gamma Curve – Film reacts in a non linear fashion to light, while video is completely linear. If you want a good (but very technical) explanation of that, check out this wikipedia article. But all you need to know is that film colors look different because of this, and there is very little you can do about it. However, some of the higher end prosumer and professional camcorders actually have gamma correction features which help it to mimic the look of film.
3. Noise – Video CCDs produce noise due to the way it picks up light as well as the way it digitizes the image. You can’t completely eliminate noise, but you can minimize it by keeping your camera’s electronic gain settings at their minimum.
4. Dust and Scratches – Since film is a physical thing, dust and scratches can easily end up on the film negative. Alot of people get so into the ‘film look’ thing that they think this is important to add to their video. Don’t be stupid. There is no reason to purposefully degrade your image. This is the one area that digital has a significant advantage over film, so be happy and keep it the way it is.
5. Resolution – Film technically doesn’t have a resolution because it doesn’t actually have pixels. However, just like video, if you project the image of a 35mm film big enough, it will start to look soft just like video does. Most experts estimate 35mm film to be about equivalent to a 4K resolution. That is about 4 times more resolution than 1080p
6. Depth of Field – This is the big one. Most digital cameras have a small CCD that is about 1/3″. Higher end cameras sometimes have a 1/2″ or 2/3″ CCD. This is much much smaller than a 35mm frame. Because of the way light goes through a lens, the result is that the smaller the CCD size, the more of the image is in focus. That means that on 1/3″ chip the entire shot will be in focus, where as on 35mm film the DP can control the focus to be on the subject and blur out the background completely. This can be of huge benefit to the filmmaker as it forces his audience to look at the subject. With video, you have much less control over what is in focus and what is not. Because of this, you have to be very careful not to have a cluttered distracting background that will pull your audiences attention away from the action
* Back up zoom in – You can get some of the same effect of a shallow depth of field by backing your camera up as far as possible, and then zooming in to get the shot type you want. Technically you haven’t changed your depth of field, but you can achieve close to the same look with the subject in focus and the background out of focus
* 35mm adapters – There is an entire industry now of 35mm adapters. These are devices that allow you to put a 35mm lens on the front of the a device, which then is projected to an intermediate screen which your digital camera focuses on. These can be a bit pricey and difficult to work with, but they are a bargain compared to shooting with film. Here is a trailer for a short film, Wide Asleep, that we shot with a 35mm adapter. The shots look beautiful, but I can tell you from experience these devices are often quite a bit of trouble to use.

There isn’t a whole lot more to it than that. But remember, the idea isn’t to make people think that your movie was shot on film. Honestly….who cares? Your goal should be to make the best film possible, using the techniques and tools available.