This DV blog post will cover some of the gear and techniques utilized in our 7 part, ‘BETA Vlog Series.’ There won’t be details about how scenes or episodes were constructed, rather we’re choosing to talk some ‘geek’ and share a story of a challenging if not stressful shoot day the entire BETA Vlog Series depended upon.
The Canon 5D MKIII sadly sits in the back seat of the car completely covered in fine sand from the storm. It felt as thou our soldier was wounded and needed some TLC.
This post may not be interesting to everyone but we’re certain camera aficionados and vloggers will find some information useful. This project the ‘BETA Vlog Series.’ was based on a journey that was literally to Trinity and beyond (a modified Buzzlightyear catchphrase). We encountered challenges we willingly over came each day of this road trip but, none compared to the Trinity sand storm, it took us to the brink and nearly derailed not just this series but our business. As camera enthusiasts we find BTS info insightful and appreciate it when other content creators share shop talk, now it’s our turn to give some of that back and hopefully help you avoid the mistakes we made. Many say sharing production details are giving away trade secrets and prefer to hold their cards close to their chest. It’s understandable and we respect that but there’s so many variables that create a good shot like: time of day, story line, characters, music, post-production, etc.
The entire premise of the ‘BETA Vlog Series’ was our destination, the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico that is part 6 of 7 in the series. You can read that post here – Trinity Test Site, it’s the background to this story.
In the video we stopped at a gas station and utilized an air pressure machine used to fill tires to blow the sand out of the crevices of our Induro High Hat tripod.
My brother and I consider the ‘BETA Vlog Series’ as our inauguration into the world of Vlogging but because of the unrelenting sandstorm we faced on that day in Trinity we were certain this venture would be the beginning of the end. After entering the grounds and finding a parking space we organized ourselves and got the equipment together. We had no idea what we were in for, on the first attempt to exit the vehicle micro fine sand pelted our eyes causing us to go into full-on squint mode, sand was going up our nose, in our mouth it was unmerciful we had to return back inside the car to regroup. The blowing sand and wind perplexed us we’ve never experienced anything like it, we could sort ourselves out but how long would the gear last? Our biggest fear was damage to the gear this was stressful and with the clock ticking the correlation between sand & time all made sense now. Our solution was to cut and mend plastic bags, scarf’s and t-shirts to protect the sensitive parts of the rig.
Our rig configuration was the Canon 5D MK III, 24 – 70 mm L-Series lens with UV filters outfitted to a P&C DSLR camera-box cage, our sound – the Rhode Video Mic with deadcat, a Tilta FF-T03 15mm follow focus, the Atomos Ninja2 external recorder and our tripod – the Induro Series HighHat with a Manfrotto 502HD ProVid Head mount.
There was no stopping the sand it found its way into the gear and all over us: it was in our eyes, ears, hair, mouth all throughout our clothing. It was so stressful because this gear was all that our business relied upon and if damage occurred it was going to ruin much more than a vlog. Our business along with the BETA Vlog was potentially at risk of coming to an abrupt halt, all the while we were in the midst of experiencing a bucket list accomplishment. We had to take charge and overcome the situation regardless of what happened.
Atomos produced a truly great product in the Ninja2 the quality of the build proved that nothing was getting inside the internal components to shut this shoot down.
As you can see from the pictures below it’s an understatement to say that the sand definitely settled into our gear. We decided to agree if the sand storm screwed up our stuff so be it, lets finish what we came here for and make the most of it. The plastic bag modification for the Atomos Ninja2 lasted only for so long and eventually was discarded as the bag developed micro tears causing the Rhode Vid Mic to pick up loud distorted sound that was detected by headphone sound quality checks. Even though the dead-cat covered the foam adapter which created a double layer of protection the internal Mic was unavoidably sensitive to the close proximity of the bag vibrations.
The gallery above shows how we took apart all the camera equipment and went piece by piece cleaning all our camera gear with extreme detail. It was scary seeing how much sand was stuck between the barrel of the lens, and in the gears of the camera.
The storm along with the historical significance of Trinity had created a solemn mood in contrast to the gratification of reaching our destination, we were in and out of these emotions in disbelief at times at where we stood. We used these feelings on occasions to guide the choices we made with certain compositions. In one such scene within the blast radius there was nothing but pulverized gravel yet there were small pockets of flowers growing from the ground as if to remind mankind life is a precious gift not be taken for granted.
The nimble P&C rig configuration allowed us to maneuver in an out of crowds without interference and quite efficiently. For the wide shots we exchanged the 24 – 70 mm to the 17 – 40 mm, this lens change was completed inside of a fresh plastic bag. As the lens’ were swapped I could feel the fine sand spray the bag like pin needles, amazingly with extreme caution no sand got onto the sensor or the back of the lens. That was our most important victory for the day a solid plastic bag thicker than the usual grocer bag did the trick. Eventually, equipment started to struggle, the Tilta follow-focus began to crunch sand within its cogs this resulted in the follow focus ring to stutter when racking focus, we had to scrap the fancy stuff and keep to static shots allowing the scene to tell the story.
The 24 – 70 had so much sand latched onto the telephoto barrel every time I zoomed in or out it got worse and started to stick! We felt defeated but we did not stop, we went there to finish what we started and stayed till the end and were one of the last people to leave the enclosure. Our Atomos monitor was covered in so much sand we had to pause every 15 – 20 mins to wipe off and Rocket Blow the screen the Ninja2 kept going it would not quit. Atomos produced a truly great product in the Ninja2 the quality of the build proved that nothing was getting inside the internal components to shut this shoot down. If by chance it did we would have resorted to recording straight to camera.
Our hearts sank when we saw all the sand stuck, jammed and grinding in every crevice and opening of the camera.
To achieve the higher production value look rather than use the internal 5D III codec, we went for the improved color resolution through our external recorder. For this we utilized the Atomos Ninja-2 with the Canon 5D MK III (minus any slow-mo 720p / 60fps) we extracted clean HDMI out for 10-bit ProRes, HQ 4:2:2 quality. This codec offers more color data latitude for Jamie when editing in post and every bit-depth helps, so you take it wherever you can. A production perk of the Atomos Ninja2 with long shoot days is the ability to change low batteries by a method deemed a hot swap technique; fresh batteries replace the duds in the 1st or 2nd chamber while still recording without having to shut down. At this location we’ll never forget the sand grinding sound made when we swapped batteries.
When we canned all the video footage, we un-rigged the 5D III and it went into stills mode along with our mobiles to capture photographs. Incredibly, at the end of the day all our gear had survived and was still operational, this kept us in good spirits we were both exhausted while proud of overcoming the challenges faced that day. We now needed to get back to the hotel to clean off up and assess everything. The hotel was where we offloaded footage and photographs onto our home-base set-up – the ASUS G750 laptop, then repeated once more by backing up onto an external hard drive. This securely protected us from any mishaps that can occur if we unwisely keep only one copy of the master files.
The battery terminals on the Atomos Ninja2 are completely covered with sand. When we moved or shook the unit we could hear sand inside. Luckily, we we’re able to remove all the sand and the unit worked perfectly.
Back at the hotel we disassembled everything it took a total of 4 hours: inspecting, cleaning and washing every single part and component with painstaking detail. No item from the day was found to be defective. This entire project from start to finish took a long time but for the story and vlog that came of it; the experience was worth every single frame. The hotel bed became the gurney for the gear the pictures show how we broke-down every single piece, this was absolutely necessary because if left unkempt who knows the damage in the long run that could’ve resulted. The mending and cleaning was completed with damp sponges then dry clean cloths followed and finished with micro fiber clothes; the Rocket Blower along with Q-tips and a fine toothbrush got into all the tight areas where the sand was lodged. For the lens’ I used a lens cleaning kit that includes solutions for the glass and sensor in the camera.
Before we closed out the day, when we were on our way back to the hotel we made a stop in a small town there was an old style throwback gas station complete with tumble weed for us to get refreshed, refueled and reminisce with some ice cream of-course. We used an old fashioned air pump to blow off the sand that was all over us and as gently as possible off of our gear, this was amusing and together we had a few laughs. While we were taking in the day leaning on the car there was an American flag in front of us set in the side of a pump proudly waving in the wind, we stood watching enjoying our ice cream, we felt like two young kids on a summer vacation, thinking aloud we spoke at unison, ‘what an absolutely amazing country, thank you America,’ and thank you Canada for having a cool big brother.
In the above video we visit the White Sands Missile Range located in Alamogordo, New Mexico where the world first Nuclear device was detonated July 16th, 1945. It definitely was a surreal place but one of the most historical locations we had ever visited to date.
Freedom sort of tastes like ice cream lets share it with everyone.
If you had a chance to watch the BETA Vlog Series please leave comment below and tell us what you think? Thank you.