Plugged In: Learning from mistakes, caught on camera

Art around town:

  • Learn about the surprising historical and economic impact of beer from Soldotna’s own nationally prominent beer writer Bill Howell, with an emphasis on Alaska craft brewers, at 6 p.m. Friday at the Kenai Fine Art Center, 816 Cook Ave. in Kenai, with discussion to follow. This free program is open to the public.
  • March 1 at 4 p.m. is the deadline for submissions for the Kenai Fine Art Center’s 2014 all-media juried art show, with a March 7 opening reception. Well-known Alaskan artist and homesteader Jim Evenson will jury the show. For more information and forms, e-mail to ourkfac@gmail.com.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

We often learn far more from our mistakes than our triumphs. I had to learn that fundamental lesson yet again last weekend.

By preference, I tend toward still photography rather than video and thus am not as practiced making videos. With our kid Ray playing in the University of Alaska Anchorage orchestra’s spring concert last weekend, you can be sure that I wanted to make the best possible video of her concert. After all, family memories such as these are important to all of us.

Although I had never before been inside the UAA art building’s small concert hall, I assumed that doing a video there would not differ greatly from similar videos previously done at high school concerts. That assumption was definitely wrong. Rather than carrying a large camera bag with several lenses into the building, I simply brought along my Olympus OM-D camera and the 75-mm lens that worked well in the much larger Soldotna High School auditorium.

A 75-mm lens on a Micro Four-Thirds camera has the same magnification/field of view as a 150-mm medium telephoto on a traditional 35-mm film camera. It was definitely too much magnification for such a small space. Although Olympus’ superb 75-mm lens worked OK, it was rather awkward. My lower-magnification 45-mm Olympus lens would have been both more useful as well as easier to use. I should have either first scouted the location or carried both lenses. At least both lenses have a bright f/1.8 aperture that works well in dim lighting.

Going in, I thought that a small monopod would provide adequate, unintrusive support to prevent camera shake, which it did. I forgot, though, about how easy it is to disturb an easily pivoted monopod by a slight twist of my head or bump of the camera strap. A light but sturdy tripod like a Dolica Pro-Line (under $40 from Amazon) would have cured those jitters.

Want to hear more follies and foibles? Unlike traditional concerts, the UAA concert was something of a “collage,” with each piece starting in a different part of the auditorium immediately after the other piece concluded, with no breaks in between. That made for an interesting and excellent means of presenting music but allowed no breaks between pieces. As a result, I simply aimed the camera from point to point without stopping the recording.

Why should that make a difference? Even though I had a fully charged battery and a very large, 16-gigabyte memory card with more than enough recording time, I forgot that nearly all cameras place a lower limit, usually around 4 gigabytes, upon the size of individual video files. Reaching maximum file size occurs fast, even faster when using, as I did, the highest possible 1920-by-1080 recording quality. Halfway through some piece or other, I noticed that my camera had stopped recording at some unknown earlier time. Of course, it’s possible that the sensor simply overheated, which frequently occurs when making lengthy video recordings.

The small, plug-in Olympus stereo microphone provided adequate sound quality, certainly better than the tiny microphones built directly in camera bodies. However, a serious stereo microphone with adjustable volume would have worked a lot better and likely cost under $100, definitely worth the price if you record a lot of family events like this. The 3.5-mm Olympus microphone adapter for the OM-D and Pen cameras would be compatible with a separate high-quality microphone and would have provided better sound quality, something that’s usually overlooked when nonprofessionals make videos. The sound’s just as important as the image, especially when recording something like a good classical music concert.

Oh, and then there was focus. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the lens to lock on to correct focus until I turned off the camera and re-mounted the lens. It’s likely that there was some dirt on the electrical contacts. I finally got consistently good focus when I set my camera to face-recognition focus, something that I ordinarily would never do.

Undoubtedly, I could go on and list even more faux pas committed that evening, but endless lists are boring. As I was contemplating this article, I initially thought that listing my errors that evening would be brief and then on to some more enlightening topic, but that, too, was in error.

What did I learn about making good video that evening?

I did a few things correctly. I used a large-sensor camera with good, high-ISO performance along with a very bright single-magnification prime lens. Zoom lenses don’t work well in these circumstances because their smaller maximum apertures don’t admit enough light for good quality video under dim lighting.

I did take along spare, fully charged batteries and made sure that the battery in the camera was fully charged. I also used a 16-gigabyte memory card with enough recording time, even at full high-definition 1920-by-1080 recording. By using a fast Class 10 UHS-1 type card, I avoided problems that a lagging memory card might cause.

Although I got the basic camera gear right, the problems that I did encounter arose mostly as a result of lack of knowledge about the small concert hall and my relative lack of experience in making videos that require high-quality sound. Make a few practice runs before a big event like a wedding to be sure that you know what problems might arise and how to avoid them.

A compact tripod definitely would have resulted in steadier, better image quality than either hand-holding the camera or using a monopod, although tripods are usually awkward and unwelcome in concert situations. Still, where appropriate, you can’t beat a tripod in situations like this.

I would use a better microphone, probably a narrow field “shotgun” style microphone, preferably one that has adjustable volume. Some newer cameras like the Panasonic GH4 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 allow users to adjust recording volume using camera controls and to monitor sound quality in real time with an earphone. Getting one of these newer cameras would definitely be worthwhile for audio/video reasons alone if I did a lot of video.

I also would have carried a selection of appropriate lenses.

I’d stop recording at the end of each segment and then immediately start a new recording to avoid problems with maximum video file size.

During intermissions, I’d insert fresh batteries and memory cards.

In the end, I’ll just order a DVD of the concert, which I would have done in any event because a bad head cold that evening prevented me from clearly hearing a wonderful concert at UAA.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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