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Wildlife on 101

Nigel Cooper explains why his production company chose to use two GY-HD101E ProHD camcorders for their forthcoming training DVD entitled Successful Wildlife Videography

This article first appeared in the June 2006 issue of JVC's own magazine Highway. To download a web-friendly 772 KB PDF version of this complete issue of Highway magazine click here

nigel operating jvcNigel Cooper explains why his production company chose to use two GY-HD101E ProHD camcorders for their forthcoming training DVD entitled Successful Wildlife Videography. The training video is being produced in conjunction with the magazine and website named DVuser. The DVD will explain and demonstrate how best to film wildlife and nature under the expert guidance of ex Survival and Animals in Action wildlife presenter & cameraman Mike Linley.

The Nature Of Wildlife Programmes:
Over the years there must have been hundreds of wildlife programmes shown on TV, with some of the more notable ones being the BBC series Blue Planet, The Planet Earth, Wildlife on One, Bill Oddie Goes Wild etc. Also, let’s not forget the long running Anglia TV series Survival, which ran for an amazing number of years from 1980 to 2001. However, for all these wildlife programmes shown on TV over the years, nobody has actually made a programme or training DVD that explains how all that great footage is achieved. So DVuser decided to step in and consult with professional wildlife cameramen and wildlife TV presenters to put together a script that will give away the great trade secrets of wildlife filmmakers, bringing these great tricks and techniques to the low-budget independent wildlife filmmaker for the very first time.

jvc gy-hd101eWhy We Chose to use two JVC GY-HD101E ProHD Camcorders:
We believe that there is a very strong argument for shooting wildlife programmes and documentaries in the progressive recording mode. Wildlife programmes have traditionally been shot on film, ie 16mm, Super16mm and even 35mm. This has been always been the case, ever since wildlife documentaries were first produced. Today film remains the dominant format for high-end productions, though some of the new digital HD video acquisition formats are making serious inroads, and for reasons that will be explained. To record wildlife in action and in the way you want it often requires many hours of filming just to get a few seconds of priceless footage for the final programme. Because of this, shooting on film can rapidly become a very expensive business, even for the BBC, who have slightly bigger budgets than us smaller production companies. During our research we looked at many camcorder models from different manufacturers, but we kept coming back to the JVC GY-HD101E. There were several key features that we needed our camcorder to have: native progressive recording, native HD 16:9 chips, professional audio with balanced XLR inputs, interchangeable lenses with adaptors for stills photographic lenses, long battery running times, a tape recording format with external hard disc recording option, plus a full range of professional accessories and, finally, it had to be affordable. Let’s break down these requirements and explain their importance relative to the job in hand of making the training DVD, Successful Wildlife Videography.

jvc gy-hd101e

Progressive Scan Recording:
As mentioned above, for years wildlife documentaries were traditionally shot on film at 24 fps (frames-per-second). Hence the strong argument for shooting in progressive mode on a digital tape-based camcorder, in order to achieve this same ‘film-look’. The GY-HD101E is one of the few camcorders that shoots natively in the progressive mode. During the production of this wildlife training DVD we will be shooting in native 720p/25p HDV mode on the GY-HD101E. This is as near as dammit to 24 fps and will still amply give us that traditional ‘film-look’ of wildlife programmes. Also, 25fps is far better for UK PAL television due to the 50 Hz refresh rate standard, whereas shooting at 24 fps would not have suited our purposes. The native progressive shooting mode also has image quality benefits as it does not suffer from the artefacts that can arise from interlaced imaging. The Kell factor is not as well known about as it should be. Basically it calculates how interlaced video is vertically filtered to about 70% of the full resolution it would be if it were progressive, so 1080i has approximately the same vertical resolution as 720p. The progressive HDV format (HDV1) uses a superior GoP (Group of pictures) algorithm than the interlaced HDV format (HDV2), which uses a 15 frame GoP algorithm. The 720p HDV format uses a GoP algorithm of just 6 frames. This shorter GoP yields better quality as there are more ‘I’ frames for the footage to hang together on. I find that complete, progressive frames (as opposed to interlaced ones) yield better quality video images and that motion looks more authentic and pleasing to the eye.

jvc gy-hd101HD Quality:
The next issue for us was quality. Although the majority of DVDs that will be sold over the next few years will continue to be in standard definition, HD DVDs will become more popular as HDTV sets and HD and Blu-Ray DVD players start to dominate British homes. Our wildlife training DVD is going to have a very long ‘shelf life’, so shooting in HD now will allow us to have duplication runs onto HD DVD or Blu-Ray discs in the future. Also, with its native MPEG-2 TS (transport stream) compression, JVC’s 720p recording provides a signal that is easily transferable to these new DVD formats. So for us, 1280 x 720 progressive HD quality was never a question, it was simply a must.

Native 16:9 Widescreen CCDs:
This goes without saying in the production of today’s video content. Native 16:9 widescreen DVDs are now the norm because most British TV viewers own widescreen TV sets. Besides, a native 4:3 progressive scan camcorder would not be up to the job as we would need to use either an anamorphic lens adaptor, which simply degrades the quality and can also add serious barrel distortion and chromatic aberrations, or, worse still, use the camcorder’s built-in widescreen effect, which messes with the pixels and kills resolution. The GY-HD101E has three widescreen CCDs which are each of the same true native 16:9 resolution as the format it supports, namely 1280 pixels horizontally by 720 in the vertical.

Interchangeable Lenses & Stills Photographic Lens Adaptors:
A camcorder that has an interchangeable lens system was top of the list of requirements for this shoot. There are certain shots in wildlife videography that require the cameraman to be a considerable distance from the subject; keeping well out of the subject’s ‘circle of fear’, to prevent disturbing the subject and having it flee, or worse still, turn against our crew and attack. The GY-HD101E not only has superb optics, specifically made by Fujinon and Canon, but also you can buy third party stills photographic lens adaptors, which allow the use of stills photography lenses on the GY-HD101E, such as those used on Nikon and Canon 35mm SLR stills cameras. Due to the difference in chip size between camcorders and stills 35mm cameras, the focal range of the photographic lens is increased by almost 7x, so, when you use a 100-300mm photographic zoom lens, it will become roughly a 700-2100mm zoom lens once attached to the GY-HD101E. Adaptors are available for both Nikon and Canon stills lenses from London-based ex Optex lens engineer Mike Tapa and experienced broadcast engineer Les Bosher, who is based in Wales, and finally there is the German master engineer Zörk, who also makes a Leica to JVC adaptor as well as many other very interesting lens devices. For our wildlife training DVD we shall be using a 100-300 Sigma professional APO Nikon fit lens, which equates to a photographic equivalent of around 700-2100mm. This means we can fill the frame with a small kingfisher from 100m away. Due to the extra weight and length of this lens we will also be using a TLS matte box support rail system with a lens support bracket that bolts straight into the lens’s tripod bush. This will ensure that the camera and lens remain clamped together perfectly and will prevent the heavy lens from drooping down slightly and also from putting extra strain on the camera’s own lens mount.

jvc gy-hd101e

Professional Balanced XLR Audio Inputs:
Audio content is just as important as the video and, in some shooting situations, even more so. We shall be using some long-range Sennheiser rifle mics during the shoot because, after all, some of the wildlife we are going to be filming will be a very long way off; anything up to 300m away. Professional quality audio is vital for this shoot so the two balanced XLR inputs on the GY-HD101E will go a very long way towards helping us achieve professional quality audio.

hawk-woodsLong Battery Record/Standby Running Times:
Filming wildlife requires lots of patience; sitting in hides for hours on end, perhaps all day, sometimes all weekend, just to get a few seconds of usable footage. For this we needed power, and plenty of it. Several companies have manufactured after-market professional V-Mount adaptors for the GY-HD101E, which allows the use of the larger capacity V-Mount batteries. For this production we decided to invest in the Hawk-Woods V-Lok Pro battery adaptor for the GY-HD101E. Hawk-Woods supply batteries for Panavision UK and are an industry standard and have a great reputation for build quality, reliability and durability. The Hawk-Woods adaptor also bolts to the bottom of the GY-HD101E under the sliding shoulder pad, as well on top, so the mount is incredibly secure; this added strength is vital in the field, where knocks are inevitable. With a Hawk-Woods VL-100 Li-Ion battery we can achieve 5 hours continuous record time and with a VL-160 we can record continuously for 8 hours; that’s an entire day’s recording in which we can get through eight ProHD 63 minute tapes or fill one 80 GB hard disk drive.

Tape-Based Recording Format:
Due to the large amount of footage we are going to be shooting during this production, the cost of recording media was always going to be a major consideration. Tape has come a very long way since it was first introduced by Philips back in 1964 and it still has a very long and good future. These days, tape-stretch and dropouts are virtually unheard of. However, my first strict rule is always to use the highest quality tapes and always from the same manufacturer as the camcorder itself. My second rule is to keep the video heads and mechanical record mechanisms i.e. capstans etc in perfect trim by using the recommended head cleaning tapes at the recommended intervals. For this production we will be using JVC’s DV63ProHD professional tapes; and lots of them.

Hard Disc Recording:
Although this option was not number one on our list of priorities, we knew we wanted to use, in addition to the tapes, an external hard disc recorder, with either 3 1/2 hr (40GB) or 7 hr (80GB) recording capacity. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, it will prove invaluable in the wait for the first appearance of birds and animals because the JVC DR-HD100 hard disc has a programmable recording buffer. This means that we can ‘retro-record’ the first few minutes or hours of any clip using the buffer system with no need to be in record mode all the time, so we will not miss a single trick. Secondly with its file pre-formatting, it will speed up the postproduction processes.

Final Comments:
Overall the GY-HD101E from JVC has everything we need to shoot this wildlife training DVD. One very important factor that I have not yet mentioned yet is its price. Because this training DVD is aimed at independent and semi-professional wildlife filmmakers, amateur wildlife videographers and students of film & video who wish to specialise in this area, it is essential that we use in the making of the DVD camcorders that all viewers of the DVD can relate to. From the beginning, we decided that we wanted to use a camcorder which is capable of producing professional and broadcastable HD quality footage, and which is also keenly priced and therefore within financial reach of independent low-budget wildlife filmmakers. The GY-HD101E comes in at well under five grand for the basic full working package, so it hugely qualifies in the budgeting department.

For details on the training DVD Successful Wildlife Videography (currently in pre-production) click the Contact Us link to send an email.

Nigel Cooper’s production company specialises in training, corporate and special interest videos. In the past they have produced training programmes and DVDs on subjects such as baby care, stills photography, video lighting, gliding and fishing. They have even produced a few music videos.

Wildlife Filmmaking: www.wildlifefilmmaking.co.uk
JVC ProHD camcorders: www.jvcpro.co.uk
Mike Tapa lens adaptors: www.mtfservices.com
Les Bosher lens adaptors: www.lesbosher.co.uk
Sigma lenses: www.sigma-imaging-uk.com
Hawk-Woods batteries and adaptors: www.hawkwoods.com

©2006 Nigel Cooper

Date: 25-06-2006

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