In my previous post, I talked through the decisions I made about what sound kit to take on a month-long shoot in Kiribati. Here’s what I think about the key components of that audio kit and how it fared in the field.
Zoom F8 mixer/recorder
Zoom F8 mixer/recorder – Pros: It didn’t crash once. It handled gain linking for use with the Soundfield ST450 Ambisonic mic and control unit, like a charm. Its small form factor and relative light weight made it very easy to put into use when needed. I was glad of the Audioroot ‘fuel gauge’ displaying exactly how much juice was left in the battery under the prevailing power draw requirements; it helped me manage batteries and recharging schedules. Timecode input from the Timecode Systems Ultra Sync One, was as easy as anything. The Zoom F8 just picked up the timecode without the need to enter any kind of ‘jam’ menu. The cons were that the LCD display was practically unreadable even at 100% brightness level in the Kiribati sun. Scrolling through screens to get to the correct one where I could change settings on the fly was a complete pain and in an ob doc situation, I’d have struggled with this. The snap on, coloured knobs from Erik were a great addition and really helped with being able to operate the faders satisfactorily and also to quickly identify which channel was which through the colour coding, but they would occasionally, quite easily, get knocked off. I’m not sure what the solution is to that (other than ‘be more careful’)!
Soundfield ST450 ambisonic microphone kit
Soundfield ST450 ambisonic microphone kit- Pros: It chucks out a selectable stereo/mono output so that I could feed the camera and/or as a L/R mix to my Zoom F8 SD card giving Sara something immediately useable in the offline and the four channels of ambisonic stems sit as ISOs ready to be processed in post production at a later date, should they be needed. It is a REALLY lovely piece of kit and I grew to love working with it during my four weeks with it. At one point, I found myself unexpectedly required to record a short section of interview and it happened to be the only mic I had with me in that situation. I switched the pattern to ‘cardioid’ and ‘zero’ width and hey presto, a perfectly good sounding shotgun mic in ‘end fire’ configuration. If I had the money, I’d buy this kit and spend all my days off field recording with it for the fun of it! The cons: I’d get pops on the capsules from time to time which I believe are a ‘feature’ of these kind of capsules particularly in a humid environment. Even after the control unit had ‘warmed up’ the capsules, I might get the odd pop. The mic was always kept with a medium sized bag of desiccant nearby. I’m not sure what else I could have done differently to eliminate theses occasional ‘pops’. If anyone who reads this, has the answer…do please let me know! I was glad to have taken a lightweight Dedolight stand with me on which I often mounted the ST450. When handheld, with the greatest will in the world, it’s very difficult to avoid mechanical transmission of one’s own body sounds AND, not having worked with the ambisonic (surround) format before, I was worried about causing a sound ‘shadow’ with my own body, masking sounds coming from that particular direction (I’m not acoustically transparent)!
Sennheiser 8060. So many people have told me that once I’d bought an 8060, I’d never go back to an MKH60. Yet, the first thing I did when I got back to the UK and onto another job, was to swap back to my MKH60. This is hard to describe as it’s likely mostly a subjective thing, but the 8060 feels to me to be ‘sloppy’ in that I don’t have to ‘work it’ quite as much on the boom in terms of preventing people being ‘off mic’ in, let’s say, the simplest 1+1 interview scenario, by being alert to who’s speaking or who’s about to speak. On the face of it, this might seem like a point in its favour (less chance for people being off mic, less effort required in being on the ball and following a conversation) but in reality its slightly less directional quality, makes it less crisp. I’d be so happy to be proven wrong or to be guided to a place where I can love this mic as much as others do by perhaps hearing it differently. Do pipe up if you love the 8060 and have experience with the MKH60 enough to make a good comparison! I’m so used to the wonderful directionality of the MKH60 and I know so well, after 17 years of using one, its temperament, that I’m disinclined to make the 8060 my mic of choice just yet. We need time to get to know each other…we’re working on that (I occasionally pull it out where its ’sloppiness’ is desireable. One thing that can definitely be said for it is that its smaller form factor makes it easier to transport; on the down side however, this smaller form factor means I can’t so easily and confidently walk around with it, attached to the boom, slung over my shoulder between takes or when relocating on foot.
Sachtler SN607 mixer bag
Sachtler SN607 mixer bag – Pros: In almost every respect, this was a really good choice of bag for the Zoom F8/ST450 combo. It was a perfect size for the Zoom F8, Audioroot fuel gauge, ST450 control unit, 2 x radio mic kits and some gubbins including a spare Cos 11. Snug – with all that in the bag, but I really wouldn’t have wanted anything bigger. The drawstring sides were really welcome and kept all my cable entrances protected. The ONLY downside to this bag, and it could be quite a biggy for some people is…there is no access from underneath, which means that in a situation where I might need to quickly whack some AA’s into the Zoom F8’s battery compartment, or where I need to quickly access the timecode BNCs, it would be a right royal pain in the backside. I’d say it’s a major flaw of this bag. HOWEVER…it’s ‘probably possible’ to get someone skilled in dressmaking/alterations, to adapt the underside of the bag…but something that really should have been designed-in in the first place. A major oversight, I’d suggest.
Portabrace harness – I left my K-TEK harness at home as it’s quite big to pack and I thought would be hotter to wear. I took my old seen-better-days-not-particularly-sophisticated Portabrace harness and there were a couple of days where I yearned for the back protection that the K-TEK harness provides by distributing most of the weight to my hips. I’m still unsure whether it would have been more uncomfortable as a result of the heat though. If I were to go to Kiribati again, I’m in two minds about what the right decision would be. I’m off to the Marshall Islands in March ’18, so perhaps I’ll try out the K-TEK then and report back about wearing it in hot climates.
Timecode Systems Ultra Sync One
Timecode Systems Ultra Sync One (USO) -I used one as a master which fed the Zoom F8 via BNC cable and also fed, via wireless, another USO connected to the C300 mkii. Easy to set up, internal battery would easily last several days (because I would religiously power them down when they weren’t in use). The first day of shooting (just a few hours one afternoon), didn’t go quite so well as I’d not locked the buttons on the master USO and they were getting squashed where I had it placed in the Sachtler bag, and consequently resetting to zero. DOH! From Day 2, the buttons were always kept locked on BOTH units! Also on Day 2 I moved the USO on the C300 mkii from the back right side of the camera via velcro (which didn’t really stick too well and fouled with Sara’s hand from time to time), to a bongo-tied position around where the LCD screen would normally be rigged. This worked quite well for most of the shoot, with the occasional minor slippage.
SD cards and backing-up in the field: The SD cards I chose, didn’t miss a beat. The workflow of a 256gb card aggregating the content in slot 1 of the Zoom F8 as I recorded across four weeks, with ‘dailies’ on a 16Gb card in slot 2, worked perfectly…though daily back ups didn’t always happen due to lack of power for the MacBook and so I’d swap out the 16Gb card for a new one each day until we were backed up properly. My formatting regime was to disengage the 256Gb card from slot 1 before going through the formatting of the 16Gb card in slot 2 (to make sure I couldn’t possibly format the wrong card and delete my aggregated data).
URSA straps – Pros: They are nice and easy to rig and worked well under t-shirts. They are thin and have a low profile, so they don’t show through clothing and they come in different colours, to make them easier to conceal under different shades of clothing. It would be unfair to mention the following as a ‘con’ of the straps themselves, but worth pointing out they were totally soaked through after only half an hour in the sweaty heat of the Kiribati sun. This isn’t a fault of the URSA strap, any strap would be drenched under such conditions. The ‘one size fits all’ chest strap, didn’t fit our key contributor and I could have really done with a bigger option, were one available…it was an uncomfortable stretch and a larger size option would have been appreciated. I’m looking forward to using these straps in the UK, in situations where sweat won’t be an issue.
Ravpower Solar charger
Ravpower Solar charger. WOW one of the best buys for this trip. It kept our phones, my Timecode Systems Ultra Sync Ones, my iPad, a portable qwerty keyboard and a child’s digital camera fully charged without the need for mains electricity. It’s so portable and easy to use. I’m VERY impressed with this piece of kit and it’s well made too!