User story: Peak performance
Director of photography
On 17th January 2016, Marcus Skogstrom started an epic trek to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But his goal was not simply to make it to the summit at 5,895 metres – it was to capture enough footage for a one hour show for Swedish Public Television en route. We caught up with Marcus to find out the technical set up required to support this challenge.
As the director of photography on a Swedish cookery show where a presenter visits chefs in closed off and challenging environments, Marcus routinely tests the limits of broadcast technology. However this shoot was his biggest challenge for the show yet.
It was a small crew – two camera operators, a producer and a host on a ten day trip trekking through highly changeable conditions that included rain, wind, moisture and freezing temperatures. All at high altitude.
We had severe rain for a couple of days. The desiccant bags were definitely hard at work at night trying to keep everything dry and working.
He took two Sony FS7s and a Sony a7S II as the main cameras, but they also wanted the flexibility to use GoPros to capture footage too. Add to this the decision to record sound independently on a Sound Devices 633 mixer and it’s clear why one of Marcus’ key concerns when preparing for the shoot was how they were going to sync timecode from all of these sources.
But it got more complicated. In a quest to save weight, he was forced to disable the timecode function of the FS7.
When you’re walking for six to ten hours a day for seven days, every gram counts. So we chose not to use the V-lock back which provides, amongst other things, a timecode input for the camera.
His solution was to make a BNC-to-XLR cable allowing him to record the timecode signal to an audio channel. He then set a :wave as the master unit and sent timecode wirelessly over RF to two of :mini trx+ receivers onboard the cameras. The :wave also fed the Sound Devices 633 mixer with timecode.
The :mini trx+ unit is an awesome little piece of kit. They are really small and lightweight and have a built in battery for around ten hours runtime. Timecode is collected via RF continuously and if the signal is lost the crystal inside the unit continues to feed timecode accurately and then syncs again once back in range.
For GoPros, he made use of the :wave’s internal WiFi network to wirelessly transmit frame accurate timecode to an iPhone creating a digislate. He then used this to visually slate these cameras.
With multiple units and a tight schedule to keep to, the ability to control and monitor units centrally using his iPhone definitely relieved some pressure.
A new feature of the :wave is the B:LINK interface, which allows you to set timecode, change userbits, name the units and check battery levels all from your iPhone. The connection time of the :mini trx+ units to the :wave is almost instantaneous so my setup time in the morning was next to none.
But it’s not just the weary trekkers filming the footage who benefited from this set up – the editors were happy too.
Inside AVID we chose to read timecode from an alternative track – channel two. Then using the aux timecode inside Avid we were able to easily sync up the recorded audio on the 633 mixer to all footage shot with FS7s and a7S II.
But the big question is would he do it all again?
Everything worked great technically – all the gear really held up amazingly to some pretty rough weather and transport. But would I want to do it all again? That’s a question I’m not ready to answer just yet!
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