By Kim S Beamish
Before leaving Australia to come to Egypt I had decided that I was going to gear up and make sure that I was ready to roll as we touched down in Cairo. I had decided that I was going to set myself a challenge and learn something new. Learn a different way to shoot, which seemed to me to be based more on an old way of shooting than anything new.
I started looking at everything being shot on the Canon 5ds and 7ds, films such as Danfung Dennis’s film “Hell and Back Again” and started to have rather grandiose ideas of shooting with Egyptian activists as they continued the progress of the revolution. Of working almost clandestinely on stories that would show the workings behind those who had built the momentum behind the so called Facebook revolutions here in Egypt but also following the story further into Libya, Tunisia and Palestine.
I read Blog sites such as Dan Chung’s DSLR News Shooter which got me all hot and flustered by the possibilities of these cameras, especially after reading posts by photo and video journalists in the field. Even more so after reading and seeing endless reviews on equipment which could make these babies sing. I liked the idea of something new, something that had a great picture and something that could possibly pass off as just a tourist camera in situations where a larger rig may be too intrusive.
I wrote endless lists of gear, options, more gear and different options without ever really getting my hands on one of these cameras. In my mind I had it all sorted out I knew what I wanted, I had justified it in my head and I was ready to sell my car and gear up. Until… A friend of mine got a Canon 7d and was shooting some short doco work on it, another friend a 5d and a rig, a big rig, so now was my chance to get my hands on these cameras and give them a burl.
The 5d and the rig, well the rig was bigger and heavier than anything I had ever used, instantly put off by the rig. I loved the image out of the 5d but once I had assembled the camera to shoot video and worked out a way of capturing audio it became cumbersome and awkward to use. I didn’t feel comfortable.
I then had a chance to shoot a short audition tape for some kids for a childrens show with my mate and her 7d. I set up so as to record audio externally via radio mics to a H4n Zoom and just had the camera in hand sans any rig. It felt light and worked OK but still felt odd. I could not get my head around where things were and the ND filter issue became a big one. In the space of two shoots I had destroyed my dreams. I didn’t really like either camera nor the rigs I kept seeing which seemed to just get bigger and bigger and more and more awkward and intrusive to shooting doco.
I wanted to be able to interchange lenses, I wanted the larger chip and the great images and depth of field but I just wanted it in a video camera that I could use like the video cameras I had been using. Then came this article on Dan Chungs blog, Size Matters: Sky News Beijing Bureau Cameraman Andy Portch reports on a year with the Panasonic AF101 and GH2 cameras.
I was in love, lust, had a heavy crush on the Panasonic AF101, it had everything I wanted. XLR inputs for audio, ND filters, kinda worked the same way as the Sony cameras I was used to, in setup at least, and it had the ability to take photographic lenses.
I must of read this article 50 times, tried contacting Bureau Camerman Andy Porch, read everything I could about this camera and saw many a rig, but to be honest none but Andy’s ever appealed. I wanted one, but something said try it first. I knew no one with one and was running out of time with only weeks till my departure for Cairo.
I bought it right there and then. Got it sent to me and when the box arrived I freaked out. What the f@#k have I done. I am no cameraman. I don’t know how to use this. I can bullshit my way through a conversation about formats, apertures and f-stops but really I’m almost all auto. WHAT HAVE I DONE! My first thought was to send it back and say there had been a mistake and what I really wanted was a Z1. I sat down had a beer stared at the box and eventually stood up and said, “f@#k it I’m doing this”.
It is not an easy camera to use, not for me anyway, not initially. First of all I had to find a way of using my Canon lenses. As the Panasonic AF100 does not take Canon mounts and I was loath to buy Panasonic lenses, as well as now I was broke. So I did more research and eventually fell upon the LiveLens MFT Active Lens Mount by Redrock which easily mounted my lenses and gave me some Iris control. I already had mics and another part of Andy’s article had talked about the wooden handle by WestSide AV so I spent the last of my initial money on it and then it was off to Cairo.
Cairo is a crazy place especially when you first arrive. Nothing happens the way you think it should and everything takes more time than it should. There is a lot of noise and it is not always easy to get your bearings and that is about the same as how I felt about my new camera. Nothing happened the way I thought it should have, everything took more time and I couldn’t initially find anything I was looking for but I was, and still am, determined to make it work.
After six months of shooting I have made a few more adjustments and to be honest I think this will continue. I have bought a Kinotehnik EVF after finding that I was having focus issues using the built in EVF on the AF100, again my descision was made after reading a review by Matt Allard on the DSLR News Shooter blog. The Kinotehnik EVF has helped no end, although I am still bemused as to how I can get the AF100 display to appear on it?
Another rig from Westside AV was purchased so as to be able to mount radio receivers. I have up to three mics running at any one time and have found the best setup is to run them all through the Sennheiser G3 Radio mics I have, with lapels running into the AF100 and the RODE NTG1 shotgun running into a H4n Zoom I have slung over my shoulder for folly and atmos. I have up till now never used the wooden handle. And just now I have had some money donated to the film for the purchase of a Tilta III BS-T03 Quick Release Baseplate which will almost complete my conversion of the AF100 into an ENG style rig.
I am now happy with my camera. I have a long way to go in learning everything about it. However I am shooting well, have some great footage and am feeling more and more comfortable every day. I have a new way of working which makes me think a lot more about what I am doing and how I will do it and I think that what will come of this is a more professional looking film by a more professional filmmaker.
For more information about the film I am presently shooting in Cairo please go to our Facebook page The Tentmakers of Chareh El Khiamiah.