I decided to write this blog after watching one of the Sunday morning political shows. Two weeks in a row they ran location interviews which were obviously shot by the same crew. All three cameras looked different and it was really off putting. But this wasn't the worst: A few weeks before a UK news programme broadcast an interview with a political leader where they used three cameras of different makes and models: 1 was 2/3" camera, 1 a DSLR (at a different frame rate) and one small sensor camera (XF305 most likely). It really wasn't pleasant to watch!
Over the years I have become a bit of an expert in multicamera shooting after shooting and editing hours of interviews, conferences and chat style shows.
More and more productions are shooting with multiple cameras. It saves time on location and the end result looks so much better than staged noddies at the end. Added to that, mutlicam support in NLE's makes editing multi camera shoots much easier that before.
On paper, shooting with more than one camera should be simple, but there are a few catch outs that can have big knock on effects down the line. Getting it all right on the day really will save time in the edit - and could easily save you money.
Here are a few main points I've learnt over the years: (of course you can always just hire me!)
1. Matching cameras.
The most important aspect of a multi camera production is getting the cameras to all look the same or match. And its not that hard: Just use the same camera, with the same settings and lenses. There are a number of settings that affect the picture (e.g. gamma, matrix, black level) but most professional cameras can use a setup card so transferring settings between them is very easy.
There is a useful cheat here: In some cases, you can use different cameras from the same manufacturer: The Sony A7sMKII, matches the F55 really nicely. An XF305 can work well with a C300 as a wide shot, or a PMW300 works great as the wide shot for a PMW500.
If you must use cameras from different manufacturers there are a few steps you can take to make the editor/graders life easier. First shoot a chart such as an XRITE Video colour checker. Shoot 30 seconds to a minute on each camera - importantly under the same lighting set up. Second: Match the cameras that can be but shoot Log or a flat look on the cameras that can't be. There is another processs: you can use a LUT (Look Up Table) to create in camera looks. It will get you close and needs to be done by someone who understands what they are doing!
(NB:It's worth noting that getting the Sony F55 to match the F5 or FS7 is very hard due to optical differences in these cameras. )
2. Choose your CODEC. If you are not shooting for broadcast, you have much more freedom to choose a codec that's more appropriate, so it's worth taking a few minutes to think about where your finished piece is ending up. Remember, each camera will produce the same amount of data and whilst it's great to shoot 4K XAVC at 50p, if you don't have the support on set or the edit does not have enough disk space to deal with that kind of data, you will cause a lot of upset along the line. 1 hr of 4K 50p XAVC = 225 GB. If you get the pictures matching and do not need to do a lot of effects or colour correction, MPEG50 is perfectly fine for a lot of work.
3. Make sure the other camera settings match. Some edit systems like FCPX are actually amazing and will not blink if you throw material at them that is a different frame rates - but you do not get anything for nothing. Behind the scenes your computer will be working that bit extra. Allow time for the camera team make sure everything matches; frame rate (FPS), shutter speed, colour settings, codec etc. If it's been a hurried set up, I like to do a verbal check with all cameras just before we roll.
4. Let's talk timecode..
The hardest part of an editors job when editing multi-camera shoots is getting the cameras and sound synced up. On location we have to give them a quick way of finding a common sync point that occurs at the same time on all devices. A visual ID for cameras and a audio reference for sound.
In the days of film this was what a slate was for. Clap the slate together and it makes a sharp noise. And there you have it, a very simple process. If you are shooting more than one camera make sure every camera can see the slate and you are off.
Today we have a much better system: Timecode.
Timecode is your best friend on multicamera shoots and if you have cameras that can record it, use it. Having matching timecode on every camera means that the NLE will be able to automatically sync the action across all cameras and more importantly maintain that sync across the entire duration of the recording. Timecode can either be sent down a cable or there are now several devices that can transmit timecode between each device (i.e. Timecode Buddy, Lockit Boxes, Tenticle) keeping the cabling on set to the minimum, very important if you are moving about.
If you are using cameras that do not support timecode (such as a 5D or A7s) there is still a way to use it: Timecode is just an audio signal, it sounds horrible if you listen to it but you can record it in just the same way you would another audio source. The trick is to feed the timecode signal into an audio channel on the camera and when the footage has been copied onto a computer, run the footage threw Davinci Resolve which has a clever facility to generate new files using the timecode recorded on the audio track.
Its also worth remembering that some of the better external recorders such as the Odyssey 7Q and VIdeo Devices PixE range can also take an external timecode signal. If I am doing a two camera shoot with my F55 and A7s, I'll record the A7s pictures on a PixE5 feeding timecode from the F55 to the PixE. It also gives me the benefit of having Prores files which are better anyway.
if you can't use timecode but are planning to use audio to sync (i.e. Pluraleyes), there are a few important notes:
Make sure all the cameras are recording good sound at a decent level. Use a slate App or a real slate, make sure you roll all cameras and all cameras can see the slate. Then mark it (clap the slate). Leave the slate in vision for a moment after.
In lieu of a slate you can always clap your hands, I prefer two books - or something with a hard edge. But again the same rules apply.. make sure all cameras can see the "slate" and don't stick them in clap and take out - ten seconds to do it properly here will mean your editor might make it home for dinner!
And remember: If you cut, re-slate at the start of each take.
[NB: If your shooting off speed, most cameras don't record audio so you have to do all you can to the help the editor out. Stick a slate in front of the camera - preferably a slate that shows timecode, ID the shots and the cameras. Anything..]
5. Monitoring. Looking at different pictures from different cameras really confuses some people - especially non technical corporate clients. Again there are some very simple fixes: Again the most obvious is to use the same make and model monitor, and make sure each monitor is set up properly. Another increasingly available option is to use a picture in picture or quad split monitor such as the Sony PVM-A170 (side by side of two inputs) or the Odyssey 7Q (Quad Split).
6. Sound. Just think about how you are going to record sound. If you are recording two people sitting down, I would always ask the recordist to cable to two cameras. It makes life in the edit simpler and, if something goes wrong you have a back up. If you are recording more than one person, ask the recordist to use a recorder to record a mix and ISOs (single channels) of each mic. Again make sure you use timecode to lock everything together. That way its easy to pull up a individual channel if there is a problem. Where possible make sure every camera has some audio on it. Just in case..
7. Organisation. MultiCamera shoots can very easily get out of hand, and if there is too much confusion it can take hours to sort in the edit. So... make sure all the cameras and sound roll and cut at the same time, it makes it much easier to track down missing files. And where possible make file names match. Use the cameras metadata to ID camera files such as "Obama IV A cam". When offloading make sure everything is labelled in separate folders. There is nothing an editor hates more than a hard drive of footage with everything all over the place. Shotput Pro 6 is very useful on multicamera shoots.
Also, If I've been shooting material on a single camera earlier during the day, then come to a MultiCamera set up, I'll start a fresh card.
Its all sensible professional practice but following these simple steps ahead of time and during the shoot will make the edit go so much smoother.