This MacVoices Briefing covers the video rig I used to record interviews at CES 2017 in Las Vegas.
If you’ve been listening to or watching MacVoices for any length of time, you probably know that, over the past few years, I’ve been modifying and refining the gear I use at trade shows like CES and NAB. These are particularly challenging environments for various reasons, especially since I attack them as a one-man production unit.
One of the biggest challenges from a video standpoint is being able to set up a camera far enough away to get a decent shot of the guests, possibly their product or booth, and me as the interviewer. That means there will be space between the subjects and the camera, and in these crowded spaces, inevitably someone is going to try to walk in front of the camera or bump into it.
Then there is the lighting: Some areas of a given exhibition space are bright, others are dark, relatively speaking. And there is always the issue of display screens in the background. Some are static, some have videos playing. Parts of those videos are dark, others are stark white. That means the camera is constantly adjusting to the light level. And let’s not forget the color casts of different lights and the reflections off surrounding booths or walls.
Framing the shot can be challenging since I can’t be in the picture to do the framing, so there is a certain amount of guesswork if I don’t have a monitor to see what the camera sees once I am in position.
From an audio standpoint, there is the issue of the constant din of the show going on around us. Sometimes it is to the point that I’m almost yelling just to try to hear myself, let alone the guest.
Finally, there’s the little matter of transporting the gear on the show floor. It needs to be as light and as minimal as possible, both from the weight and bulk perspectives. Fighting the crowds while loaded down with camera gear isn’t a lot of fun.
So with all that, this year I opted to abandon my GoPro camera because last year at NAB, I lost a number of absolutely terrific interviews due to an audio cable failure. That wasn’t the GoPro’s fault, but what was was the lack of any audio meters to indicate there was a problem. I ended up with some gorgeous silent movies. Great video but not a lick of sound, and therefore completely useless.
I opted to use an iPad Pro 9.7” as my video source for a couple reasons. First, it has a terrific camera that shoots in 4K. Having that much resolution means I can be a little less precise in framing, and can adjust or zoom in post to position the shot. Second, because of its size, even while shooting video, the battery life is sufficient for a full day of this kind of shooting with power to spare.
Next, I picked the iOgrapher as the housing for the iPad, and to allow it to be mounted to a tripod. The iOgrapher is relatively light weight, yet holds the iPad VERY securely. It also has a threaded lens mount that provides the option of using a wide angle lens. iOgrapher makes just such a lens, and that means i could put the camera even closer to the subjects, cutting down on those pesky, inattentive people interrupting the shot.
The iOgrapher’s cold shoe mounts are useful for attaching other gear such as my Kick light. Both brightness and temperature are adjustable, and the battery has a decent life since it is an LED panel. This was the only piece of gear that made the cut from last year’s rig.
For the first time in several years, I gave up my beloved Manfrotto monopod. As convenient as it is for transport and set-up, with an iographer-housed iPad at the top, it isn’t stable enough for shooting in a crowd. A slight bump by a passerby and you look like you are watching an earthquake.
I opted for the Manfrotto MKC3-H01M tripod. In addition to being much more stable, it stands just over 60 inches high, yet collapses down to a very small 18 inches…small enough to fit in even today’s small carry on suitcases. At 2.5 poiunds, it isn’t the lightest tripod going but is acceptable. Best of all, it is an affordable $95 on Amazon.
Especially nice is the pistol grip ball head that adjusts easily. It can be angled up or down depending on the position of the camera, the subject’s height, and any other factors that crop up.
On the audio side, I used the IK Multimedia iRig HD microphone with a Lightning extension cable from Cellularize, and of course, a foam windscreen. This was another big chance, since I’ve been using a Share SM58 even longer than the Manfroto monopod. The mic has a gain adjustment on it, and as you can tell from the interviews, has pretty good off-axis rejection that helped isolate the guest from the rest of the show floor noise. In a couple cases, because the noise at the event was so great and I’m used to the Shure, my part of the audio was a bit overdriven, but I adjusted it once I realized what was happening.
In order to avoid the disaster of not being able to confirm that audio was being recorded, I used the FiLMiC Pro video app. Not only does it include an audio level indicator, but also all sorts of options various resolutions and frame rates, a battery indicator and more.
Overall, this is my new favorite rig to use for Expo interviews and beyond. One small problem cropped it, and that had to do with the iRig HD mic. Because it uses a micro-USB cable to connect into the bottom of the mic, it is had a tendency to come lose since it doesn’t lock into place like an XLR mic does. This happened a couple times, but happily I caught it in time to correct or re-record the interview. I ended up using a piece of tape wrapped around the cord and the bottom of the mic to take the tension off and assure that it stayed plugged in. I’ll be looking at other options for a mic solution only for that reason. The performance of the mic itself was excellent, and if you’re not dragging all this gear around a trade show floor, it is highly recommended.
The only other small issue is that I still have no way to monitor the video once I’m back in front of the camera after framing the shot, but with the 4K resolution, that’s not the issue it used to be. If I figure out something, you’ll be the first to know.
One last thing on the hardware side, and under the heading of full disclosure. I did try this same rig, but substituted an iPhone 6 Plus and the corresponding iOgrapher case. Since the cameras are the same, the results were similar, and excellent, but the battery life just wasn’t suitable for a day of shooting. If you don’t have those kinds of time demands between charges, I can also heartily recommend this set-up.
I also experimented with using a Rode Video mic, shown here on the iPhone version of the iOgrapher. Again, if the conditions were different, this would be a great way to avoid the cabling and mic, and can definitely be made to work, but with the degree of ambient noise on the trade show floor, I prefer the mic, especially for the audio-only version of MacVoices. One small note if you decide to go this direction: you will need a TRS to TRRS adapter cable to make the Rode or any shotgun mic work with the iPad. Just so you know.
So that was my recording rig for CES, and I’m already looking forward to taking it back to NAB in Vegas in April. It certainly cuts down on the gear I’ve had to travel with in the past, is quick to set up, and delivers great audio and video. If you’re in the market, please check out any or all of these components. I think you will be quite satisfied with the results.