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It's a wrap! Musikmesse 2013 and the value of using the right tools for the job

André Engelhardt


Musikmesse 2013 was one heck of a great (learning-) experience. I've only ever been to the Musikmesse in Frankfurt as a visitor (I think my first time there was with my father when I was around 13 years old) but never as a "reporter" like this year.

This year, I've volunteered a bit of my time, equipment and services to (defunct as of August 2013), a collaboration platform for entertainment professionals. Our goal was to get a few interviews of makers of gear that might slip underneath the radar of the "normal" press, something that might have real value to folks working in audio as well as to test out our skills in the way of news gathering, video creation etc. for future projects we're planning.

So this being our first ever try at doing something like this we expected things to go wrong, horribly wrong. After all that's how you learn, by making mistakes and learning how to avoid them in the future, right?!

Well ... before I tell you the ugly (or not) truth, let me pull back a bit to the planning stage:

We knew we'd be shooting interviews in bad lighting and with a horrible sound-scape in the background (e.g. NOISE, lots of it and not just voices but music blasting at small concert levels, full range) plus cramped quarters with lots of people walking all around us.

Considering the above I was tempted to bring my Nikon D5200 DSLR. It captures great looking video in full 1080p HD, it's small and lightweight, ready to shoot within a second or two and works great in all kinds of lighting. For the audio I figured the Zoom H4 with an external Lav mic through wireless should do the trick of getting clean recording of the interviewee. No cables for people to trip over and I'd be able to monitor the audio through the H4 with earbuds while shooting too.

All of the above would also fit in the pockets of a photographer's vest, it wouldn't be too intimidating and we'd be fast and agile if we had to be. Add a monopod and we should be good ...

But then, last-minute I decided to do a U-Turn and go traditional, instead of trendy. I decided that I'd pack my complete video production kit consisting of:

  • JVC GY-HM100 ProHD video camera
  • Manfrotto 755XB tripod with a pretty heavy 501HDV fluid head
  • Litepanels LED video light
  • proper closed headphones for monitoring audio instead of earbuds
  • Røde NTG-2 shotgun mic
  • dead cat (cancels out wind noise)
  • shock mount
  • boom
  • no wireless mic transmitters or Lav's but instead a proper XLR mic cable (risk of tripping yes, but dramatically reduced risk of interference)
  • Zoom H4 + accessories
  • mic stand (table and normal)
  • extra batteries en masse with chargers
  • cables, adapters etc (for feeding product demo audio directly into the cam with the interviewee)
  • full weather proofing kit
  • extra SD cards, laptop, backup card readers, external HD for redundant backups on the spot
  • etc. etc.

Arriving at the Musikmesse I immediately saw several camera crews running around with DSLR's and no extra audio recorders, just going straight into their DSLR's and immediately  I was thinking to myself that I really should have just done the same instead of running around like a dinosaur.

Luckily I was wrong though ... sometimes being a dinosaur is exactly what you have to be ...

I noticed the crews with the DSLR's running between power outlets, press center (where they were offloading their SD cards) and shooting locations like headless chickens. Not to mention they were usually shooting their interviews static from one fixed location because auto focus on DSLR's for video is just not that great ... No moving around, just shoot cut shoot. I felt sorry for the editor! (Not to mention rolling shutter issues with CMOS sensors)!

Indeed when we started shooting the next day I started feeling pretty damn good about my decision to go traditional right away. I was able to zoom in on stuff, walk around with the interviewee across the whole booth, I had great audio in the headphones (the automatic gain control when set to a reference level of -20db worked beautiful in the horrific environment of the musikmesse) and I could really focus on getting a great picture and sound without worrying about anything else because the automatic modes (focus, white balance, boost, shutter, iris etc.) on the JVC camera work really, really well. It was a relief to say the least.

The GY-HM100 ready to shoot (without the LED video light attached)

The GY-HM100 ready to shoot (without the LED video light attached)

But not only was the shooting much more straight forward using a proper video camera, I was also able to drag the videos from the camera directly into Final Cut Pro. I'd tweak the audio a bit with EQ, compressor and de-esser, normalize it to -1dB (I'm a bit conservative when it comes to the prevention of clipping) cut off my "action" shouts at the beginning of the video and cut the end, slap on the prepared opener and closer videos, a bit of color correction then send it to Motion for the lower thirds and FINISHED!

The whole time I was worried that we made some kind of stupid, critical mistake that would show up during editing but everything was just fine, of course there's room for improvement in my shooting skills but damn, I think the results speak for themselves.

So what did I learn from this? Definitely that the old traditional ways aren't always wrong just because you can do things differently nowadays. While I am a firm believer in DSLRs for video (I shot several image films with DSLR's) they just don't work as well (yet!) in a run and gun environment. Where we were able to shoot one interview then run straight to the next interview non-stop for a good 6 hours, our friends with the DSLR's had to recharge batteries, offload SD cards (the JVC cam I used has two sd card slots! and I can offload one while recording on the other!), shoot b-roll footage because they can't move and focus at the same time etc.. Not to mention that it really makes the editing process quick and easy. Everything's correctly balanced color wise (big WB button directly at the front of the JVC camera!), I've got my close-ups already because I was able to simply zoom in and move around with the camera and I didn't have to do any transcoding from AVCHD or H.264 to ProRes or whatever because the JVC already shot straight to FCP friendly XDCAM EX in a .mov wrapper!

So all in all, while I think DSLR's are great for what they can do it just showed me that it really is all about using the right tools for the job. Of course you can assemble nearly everything with a swiss army knife but you can do it 100x faster and better if you use proper tools. 

Cheers, André

P.S.: My wife was against me taking the DSLR from the start, she actually prevented me from selling my "proper" video camera months ago when I thought the DSLR could do it just as well ... next time I'll just listen to her right away!

And here's an interview shot at the SPL booth with BJ demonstrating the new SPL Crimson and Madison interfaces. You can see the full auto mode and ability to just walk around, swing the camera in and out etc. saved me a lot of editing time - as a matter of fact it's just one shot, start to finish!

You can find the rest of the videos we shot at