Help needed for my first documentary

Hi, I am new to this site and not a wizard like you guys. I am planning for my first documentary on the subject Migration of American Bisons. Since this is my first project I need help from experienced members. I need some technical advice regarding the cam to use and other audio devices.
      I am planning to complete this project with 4 member team. It will be a great help for me if I get suggestions from wildlife photographers.

Thank you very much.


  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,689 Ambassador

    What's your budget? Are you planning on buying or renting gear? Can we assume you are shooting bison? What's your intended distribution (internet, Blu-ray, film festivals)? Don't forget to look at sites like shutterstock, pond5 or videoblocks. There may be useful stock footage. 

    In general, for documentary work, I recommend configuring for speed. This would push more into the camcorder range than a cinema camera, but, with animals it's probably better to turn on and shoot in five seconds rather than attaching lenses, monitors and mics to a rig. The Panasonic DVX 200 is a sexy camera that has a 30x zoom and records 4k at up to 200 mbps, along with a micro 4/3 sensor capable of fairly shallow DoF. 

    That said, renting something like a Canon C300 gives the option of attaching very long lenses... An Ursa Mini is arguably the best overall camera under $10k, but storage is expensive. Sony's Fs7 would round out my camera recommendations. 

  • Deweak
    Deweak Posts: 185 Enthusiast

    In the budget range, another option could be the Sony RX10III, since it has a 600mm equivalent zoom with a great image stabilizer, high speed shooting (up to 1000fps), and 100MBps encoding. 4K capable, too, but even if it's a bridge this camera offers a lot more than a basic DSLR for a limited price, and it's compact enough to shoot anonymously :)

  • WhiteCranePhoto
    WhiteCranePhoto Posts: 924 Enthusiast

    Since you're shooting wildlife, you're going to want long lenses. For budget long lenses I recommend mirror lenses. I have a Rokinon mirror lens... they're manual focus only, but I got lots of tack sharp images of birds in flight at sunset over the Salton Sea with one.

    Learn the habits of the creatures you're filing. Moose Peterson has a book out about his wildlife photography methods, it's worth a read -- even though he shoots stills.

    As for which camera to get, that's a tougher question, particularly since you didn't specify a budget. You also didn't specify what your target is; whether you need to be able to master in 4K or or whether HD is resolution enough. That will affect the recommendations quite a bit.

    Black Magic's micro cinema camera might be a great option for you... it's inexpensive, compact, has excellent dynamic range, and can use a LOT of lenses.

    If you have the budget, a Red Raven or Red Scarlet is probably your best bet; get the smallest monitor available, the simplest and lightest battery adapter, a Canon mount, and you end up with a 4-pount kit + lens. Power it with Hypercore Slims and you save weight there also. My Red kit makes an Ursa Mini look and feel pretty big and heavy by comparison... but you do pay for the savings in size and weight. 

    Don't use just long lenses though; personally, I'd recommend something along the lines of Sigma Art zoom lenses plus a Roki mirror lens and an inexpensive camera like a Micro cinema camera, unless you r budget will handle an Ursa Mini 4.6K or a Sony FS7 (either version).

    You will also need a *lot* of time and patience. Take a gander at Planet Earth... and watch the extras. Wildlife photography can be very challenging, because you have to shoot on their terms, not on yours. That might mean hiding in a blind for a week to get close enough, and it might mean camping on a ridge in a blizzard for a week to capture their behaviors. Know your environment, know your subject. 

    You *will* need a tripod. When I was shooting penguins in Patagonia, I had to set my camera on my tripod, turn on the vibration reduction in the lens, AND lean on the whole assembly in order to keep the images steady... simply due to wind. The tripod I was using is a Really Right Stuff groundpod -- it's a tank. And it wasn't enough for the wind. With a 500mm mirror lens (f/8) I was jacking the ISO so that I could shoot at 1/1600th of a second with my stills camera, and even then the wind still managed to jostle me enough to hose some shots -- and I have VERY good posture (30 years of old-school martial arts training will do that to you).

    IMO it's better to use long lenses than to get really close to critters out of respect for them, both to avoid disturbing them and to avoid spooking them into trampling you. 

    Expect to be wishing for a 500mm or 1000mm lens if you don't have one. A 400mm lens wasn't enough in the Serengeti. 1000mm was barely enough when I was on the Salton Sea. 500mm wasn't enough when I was in Patagonia.

    If you're going to be in their native habitat in inclement weather... be ready -- have plenty of batteries ready, lots of media, and be ready to camp. In potentially nasty weather. For days at a time. Their lives don't stop in winter, so neither will you. That does mean hanging around in places like Yellowstone in winter -- if haven't done any winter camping you'd better start gearing up. And make sure that you can carry whatever gear you get.

    I'm a climber, I've been up Mt. Adams, the Brothers, Mt. Rainier, and trekked hundreds of miles in the Cascades; feel free to ping me if you want some pointers to ultralight survival gear. I've gotten my survival kit down to 30 pounds for a winter overnight, including a set of runners, belay device and loop, carabiners, climbing helmet and harness, crampons, ice axe, and zero-degree quilt, winter mat, etc. 

    I'm not great at it, but I love filming wildlife. It's very rewarding when it all comes together. I'm hoping to more of it with my new kit this year. :)

  • Deweak
    Deweak Posts: 185 Enthusiast

    The Sony RX10 iii in action :


    This sample video is shot handheld (not by me) but I think Hitfilm's stabilizer wouldn't have any trouble to make it still. If you don't have a big amount of cash for your documentary, have a look at this camera's specs, the 24-600mm Zeiss lens is impressive, and needs no setup or external devices to be ready to shoot. You just have to consider buying some 25$ extra batteries. And this camera costs under 1800$...

  • FCC63
    FCC63 Posts: 1

    Assuming you are already skilled in field craft tracking Bison and their behaviour, you could try using as others have suggested a Black magic micro cinema camera. I call a system using this camera a "lens system" as it is such a small camera and therefore no weight, you can bring several lenses including some big ones etc. Essentially, you are simply bolting a lens to a tripod! The most important thing for this shoot is really the field craft and knowing the area and good vantage points for shooting. Re the Black Magic Micro Cinema camera, I personally think it has great sensitivity in low light without even going past 400 ISO, Fantastic dynamic range for a camera in it's price point and has many other features such as being able to shoot time lapse too etc good for cutaways etc etc all in one small box.  If HD is all you need then this moderately high bit rate camera would be a suggestion.  Use a good screen, don't scab on that either. I guess you really need to state a budget. But also whatever you get you must be extremely proficient with the system before venturing out of your backyard, so as to be able to trouble shoot in wilderness areas, if that's going to be the case.  XLNT content will always win out over resolution, so don't get hung up about what resolution/pixel dimensions you're shooting otherwise you'll never shoot anything because you'll spend all your time trying to afford to buy gear which changes the moment your credit card is billed LOL. Sounds like a very interesting subject.